Marc Cohn, Shawn Colvin, and Sarah Jaroz at The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco

words/photos Jennie Book

Singer-musicians Marc Cohn, Shawn Colvin, and Sarah Jarosz came together onstage at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts on January 25th to perform an unforgettable set of favorite songs and stories from a cumulative decades-worth of enduring musical careers.

All Grammy award winners, each musician has had an earned and storied career. Shawn Colvin won her first Grammy for her debut album Steady On in 1989, then found international fame with her hit song “Sunny Came Home” in 1997. Listeners around the world found Marc Cohn through the single “Walking In Memphis” from his self-titled album in 1991, and like Shawn Colvin has worked with innumerable talented collaborators throughout the years, including David Crosby, who was mentioned often and lovingly during their performance, and Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, and Mary Chapin Carpenter. Sarah Jarosz is the whippersnapper of the bunch, but with four Grammys lining her bookshelf at 30 years old, her pure voice talent and gift for stringed instruments meant she stood in no one’s shadow on stage.

The majestic Palace of Fine Arts theater was wide and plush with an ample minimally-lit stage. The three musicians kept their spots throughout the evening, with Shawn Colvin stage right, Marc Cohn in the middle, and Sarah Jarosz stage left. The women displayed their string-playing chops all evening on guitar and the occasional mandolin and octave mandolin for Sarah (“It’s a mandolin that’s an octave lower,” explained Sarah, when Shawn asked her to explain it), playing complimentary parts that were seamlessly arranged and full with depth. Marc Cohn moved from piano to standing microphone during the show, playing keys in his signature and unmistakable style, comfortable at both playing in a support role, and also while belting out hits like “Silver Thunderbird” and “Walking in Memphis.”

Each musician had time to shine separately in the spotlight, like Shawn Colvin singing her beautiful “Spider Web,” and Sarah Jarosz singing her original “Orange and Blue.” But for the most part everyone sang each song together, offering backing vocals and harmony when it wasn’t their own track, and Sarah even sang a full new intro to an old hit on Marc Cohn’s “Silver Thunderbird.” Sarah got the crowd involved with her cover of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” inviting everyone to sing, and then when they weren’t giving it all they had, she happily urged everyone to “sing louder!”

The evening was filled with memorable moments from the musicians, with stories about David Crosby and how much he meant to all of them, how they’d worked with him through the years and had made plans to tour with him before his death. Sarah told a story about how David Crosby invited she and her partner to his house and they spent a glorious day with he and his wife, including time on the beach together, where a blue heron flew directly overhead which Crosby said he “ordered up” for them. Sarah joined Shawn for the crowd-pleasing “Sunny Came Home,” and said afterwards, “It’s pretty epic to play that mandolin riff with Shawn.” Shawn gave insight through the night about how she’s a reluctant songwriter, how the blank page is daunting, and how in order to encourage creativity her friend Mary Chapin Carpenter takes walks with her dog to get the juices flowing, but Shawn herself prefers to take naps. The crowd was equally charmed by Marc’s introduction to his song “Perfect Love,” which was written for his brother and his brother’s wife who have been together 56 years, with his brother telling Marc, “I wouldn’t call it a perfect love. I’d call it an enduring love.”

When the trio left the stage after 17 powerful songs, the crowd jumped to its feet to demand an encore with unrelenting clapping and cheering. The musicians came back out smiling and dove into the Beatles cover “I’ll Be Back,” and for the final song of the evening played Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” with Marc joining his tourmates at the front of the stage on guitar. As they took a bow to the packed house it was clear the crowd would have enjoyed hours more of their entertainment had it been offered, and were satisfied by the enduring talent of these special musicians.