Doria Roberts Electrifies UMass

Folk artist Doria Roberts performing at UMB.

Folk artist Doria Roberts performing at UMB.

Carl Brooks

Doria Roberts became a repeat visitor to UMB last Wednesday braving warm, gale-force winds and an equipment failure that had the energetic singer/songwriter fearing for her safety, nervously telling the crowd, “I don’t wanna get electrocuted! Seriously, its scary up here…” Despite the appearance of the inevitable UMass stage gremlins, Roberts held the UMass Gazebo firmly in her grasp for a strong and lighthearted set. The indie rock-and-roll/folksinger with a queer bent and a large vocal talent joked and laughed with a panicking crowd that laughed and cheered her. Roberts is a dashing, Atlanta-based “folksinger” who has made a name for herself as a dynamic performer and unabashed songster on the underground femi-pop and folk circuit.

Roberts played at UMass two months ago in company with political activist Ingrid Riviera at our frigid, snow bound campus on Feb. 26. Roberts was such a hit that the Queer Student Union apparently bent heaven and earth to get her to back, and when she agreed to come back, the Student Senate chipped in and the solo concert turned into a blustery spring celebration complete with bag lunches, fresh fruit and chocolate cake, all of which steadily disappeared as folks sat at ease around tables and listened.

Roberts, who tours like a born maniac, was instantly at ease with the crowd, trading talk and quipping, when some wiseacre requested, “Like a Virgin,” “Focus! Original artist up here, people,” and taking it all in stride. Filling the stage with a charisma that belied her small frame, Roberts pumped out energetic rock and roll and thoughtful soul and jazz-inflected songs. Her voice is terrific. Roberts has a honey-warm, casual and confident singing voice that makes her sound like the nicest girl in the world, and matches up with her down-to-earth lyrics and down-home style. Her tunes aren’t too shabby either; all her songs have easy melodies and cuddle right up to the ear.

For all that she’s really easy to listen to, Roberts is no pushover. Her songs come with sharp edges and blunt truths under her sweet voice and while she lacks a manifesto, she calls ’em like she sees ’em and writes songs that are overtly political and have endeared her to the New Folk movement, queer and feminist fan bases and made her a regular on the Ani circuit, singing songs like “Jesus is Coming” (ironic). She’s not all earnestness and zeal; singing a danceable tune about cancerous corporatism, she quipped, “not all corporations are bad… If I had to give up Ben&Jerry’s…”

She ended up the set with touching flair, ramping up her voice, leaving her mic and kicking her threatening amp cord away, jumping off the stage to where she obviously felt the best, strutting through the crowd and carrying them on the back of her vocal talent to a rousing finish.

Roberts proved to be frank and lucid about her politics, declaiming ideology for personal values, “I’m not a spokesperson. People will think what they want to [about me]. I’m about inspiring people to be honest.” Nevertheless, Roberts is an outspoken advocate of causes she admires, such as independent artistry, gay rights and liberal social values.

Roberts explained she doesn’t travel with her band because, “They’re pussies. They don’t wanna leave [Atlanta].” Indeed they might find it hard to stick with Roberts, whose tour schedule shows a daunting 57 shows in six months. Apparently tireless, Roberts’ first degree was an MBA, and she still carries, “a little bit of that edge.” She fully expects to be an icon in the folk-pop world, and recently hired a tour manager along with producing, publishing and selling her six albums independently.

On the file sharing controversy that is shaking the mass-market record industry, Roberts makes her position clear, “I’m never going to care about Madonna’s bottom line. And I fully understand the benefit of all that. But I made decisions to keep myself accessible. This is my belly, my gas tank we’re talking; I’m asking for a modicum of respect; don’t burn my CDs.” A fierce personality, a bucket of talent and faultless self-confidence and crowd skills make this apolitical political, rock-and-roll soul, singer/songwriter someone to watch out for.