“In My Own Time, I’ll Get a Little Older”

Fenne Lily and Christian Lee Hutson with Why Bonnie, Live at the Music Hall of Williamsburg   

By Erin Kang


Doors at Music Hall of Williamsburg for Fenne Lily and Christian Lee Hutson’s Brooklyn show open at 7, but I rush out of my friend’s apartment around the same time. While I could attribute my lateness to the fact that I’m not from the city, it’s really the thunderstorm (along with the lack of an umbrella) that made it difficult to abandon the comfort of the indoors and walk my way over to the venue. Luckily, I make it 15 minutes after the doors open, just in time for the opening act.

Although drenched, I quickly find my footing as Blair Howerton, lead singer of Austin-based indie band Why Bonnie, ushers newcomers like myself into the room. Behind the band is a backdrop of flickering fairy lights to emulate a starry sky overlooking a pool and lush greenery, almost enchanting the room to feel as if we’re tucked away in a secret garden of our own. Howerton’s crooning and the band’s washful, shoegaze sound draws the crowd closer to the stage as they play through a handful of songs from their debut album, 90 In November. Right before performing my personal favorite of the album, “Galveston,” Howerton takes a moment to explain the song as an attempt to understand childhood nostalgia while reckoning with the harrowing realities of young adulthood. Discussing recently going back to a place she used to frequent as a child, she confesses that, “It was beautiful, but everything had changed… This song is about that feeling and that place.”

Why Bonnie

Why Bonnie sets the theme of the night. With a disposition toward poignant storytelling and lyricism that simultaneously grieves and restores lost memories, the band gently invites the crowd to take shelter from the rain and find healing through a night of honest music. 

While waiting for LA singer-songwriter Christian Lee Hutson, someone behind me tells their friend that they’re a fan of Hutson’s lyrics. As more people shuffle into the room, I think about the precedent that folk music has set in regards to songwriting, holding a subtle power to command a distracted room to pause and listen. I wait in anticipation.

Before I know it, Hutson makes his way to center stage and leads his three-person band (including himself) into his first song of the night. “Strawberry Lemonade,” a purely acoustic track from his most recent album, Quitters, sheds light on Hutson’s virtuous musicianship. It strikes a balance between melody and lyricism, and Hutson never compromises one for the other. His poetry, consonant-heavy and sharply pensive, alludes to specific, fragmented memories and sacred inner thoughts. Just as the audience begins to settle into Hutson’s hazy vocals atop fluttery acoustic riffs in the final verse, he swiftly trades his acoustic guitar for an electric, transitioning the band into a shreddy, explosive interlude. Despite the sudden contrast in sound, the audience gawks in Hutson’s spiritual cacophony, learning quickly that this night will evoke a spectrum of emotions they will carry with them.

Christian Lee Hutson

Between his emotionally charged performances, Hutson grants his audience respite by sharing witty anecdotes about his life. Prior to playing “State Birds,” he recounts the time he worked at a smoothie shop: “I disappeared for two weeks. I blocked my boss’s phone number, and my coworkers eventually found out. I suppose they refer to it as ‘quiet quitting’ now.” Throughout the evening, he continues to entertain with stories about his initial move to the city as a young musician (“I would play at this weird fucking coffee shop in NYC right next to fucking Trump Tower”) or how his own song “Endangered Birds” sounds a lot like Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends” (prompting the crowd to join in a brief singalong of the latter). Hutson’s deadpan humor, delivered in a monotone voice, serves only to enhance the familiarity of his discography, creating a grounding atmosphere akin to a conversation between old friends. 

He concludes his set with a song requested by an audience member. “I’m probably going to fuck [“Teddy’s Song”] up very badly, which will be a very good note to end on.” He then proceeds to perform the song flawlessly.

I head toward the bar, craving a break from standing before Fenne Lily’s set. Two hours of back-to-back acts is a lot for someone on their feet, and Lily carries the weight of being the final act of the night. Just as I begin to settle in, the lights dim, signaling Lily’s arrival on stage.

Fenne Lily encounters a few technical difficulties at the beginning of her set, but she reassures the crowd through charming rambles that alleviate moments of silence. Speaking in her signature hushed voice, she echoes into the microphone and encourages the crowd to remain patient for just a moment longer: “Can you tell I’ve been listening to a lot of those Headspace stories before bed?” The audience murmurs in agreement, already captivated by the natural lull of Lily’s presence, which proves to be a positive sign.

Fenne Lily

Lily finds her groove as she performs her opening song, “2+2,” from her latest album, Big Picture, released this spring. She gracefully bobs and bounces to the sauntering rhythms of the band, and the crowd follows suit with a synchronized sway. As she guides the audience through crowd favorites like “Berlin” and “Lights Light Up,” Lily’s artistic depth captures my attention. While her stage presence is unassuming, it is Lily’s ability to brazenly sing with her heart on her sleeve that convinces the crowd of her musical and emotional aptitude. Her songs seamlessly blend into one another, resembling voice memos exchanged with cherished friends. The people around me seem to relish in the intimacy as I notice not a single person reaching for their phones to record the performance. Towards the front, I catch sight of two friends embracing each other while moving to the music.

Like Hutson, Lily tells stories between songs, mainly about bad Tinder dates, expired relationships, and new beginnings. With humor, she remarks, “I mapped out this setlist to be so seamless. No talking. I’m a nervous over-sharer.” However, the best bits of her dialogue come from her on-stage conversations with Hutson, who rejoins the stage to perform a few songs they collaborated on from Big Picture. Their musical chemistry is evident, but it’s their genuine friendship and deep appreciation for one another that shines through in their lighthearted interactions. When Lily asks Hutson to introduce “Red Deer Day,” the two tumble into a banter that elicits hearty laughs from the audience:

Hutson: I’m the type of person to hear a song and then I don’t notice that there were words in it… but this one has really good words in it! Fenne heard this song through a wall… didn’t you hear this song through a wall?

Lily: You’re gonna… this is gonna… okay…

Hutson: Okay, I’m explaining this wrong.

Lily: This is going to be a lawsuit thing…

Hutson: No, no. There’s no lawsuit… There's no lawyers here, right? Are there any lawyers here?

Lily: I’m going to take over because this is horrible. I thought you were going to do a fun, cute thing and make up a fake story about the song… You seemed to just have made a whole problem…

The broader chemistry between Lily and the rest of the band exhibits a profound friendship forged by a shared love for music. Throughout the night, bandmates rotate instruments and interject Lily’s stories with amusing perspectives of their own. Perhaps it is this real-time intimacy that sustains the crowd through a three-hour show.

For the encore, Lily takes the stage alone with her guitar. She concludes the show with “Top to Toe,” a song she wrote when she was fifteen. As she leads the audience into a final ballad, I think about the stories passed around the room tonight. Why Bonnie, Christian Lee Hutson, and Fenne Lily collectively put together a show that feels contextualized and fulfilling. What is music if not shared?

As I step out of the venue, I am reminded of the storm that raged a few hours ago. The rain has bestowed a gentle radiance upon the streets, eradicating any remnants of earlier coldness.