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Who: Amy Rae & Vitamin Love

Where: The College Street Pub

When: Saturday, Jan. 4

“Where is Steve Shanafelt? Steve Shanafelt, get up here on the stage!”

I stepped one dazed, leaden foot over the other toward the brass rail-encased hardwood dais that serves as the College Street Pub stage. The crowd looked at me with a mixture of curiosity and bemused mockery. My cover was completely blown.

I try to avoid scenes like this. I tend to lurk, hiding in shadowy corners, only introducing myself to the band when circumstances require it. Most local musicians are friendly-enough people, but it helps a reviewer to keep his distance.

“Where is Steve Shanafelt?” Amy Rae’s breathy voice repeated into the microphone. “There he is! Get up here on stage!”

I silently cursed my roommates for setting me up, and myself for revealing my planned venue for the evening’s review.

With a deep breath, I braced myself for the onslaught. Then it began, a heartfelt and cacophonous rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Despite all my precautions, I was the recipient of a surprise party.

To make it all the more awkward, Amy Rae & Vitamin Love, my target band, was in on the whole thing.

Of course, there was little I could do but play along. The song was over soon enough, but as I stepped down, I could feel the wobbly-kneed specter of good-natured embarrassment. Two thoughts pounded their way to my mind: How am I ever going to make this into a review? And: What do I have to do to get some coffee?

First and foremost, Vitamin Love is a dance band — and in between attempted conversation with three tables of friends and co-workers, I gave their jazzy mix of blues, rock and swing covers as solid a listen as I could. Cover bands aren’t really my thing, but the dance floor was certainly well-used over the course of the evening, including a memorable turn by Xpress Managing Editor Cecil Bothwell and his graceful companion.

Rae’s voice is obviously the band’s calling card — strong and clear, but with just enough brass to deliver solid renditions of rock ‘n’ roll standards like “Mustang Sally” and “Pink Cadillac.” When she allowed herself to take the softer route, Rae was equally successful, rendering a memorably bluesy version of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.”

As the rest of the room hit the depressant phase of the celebratory beers, I rode the opposite, caffeine-addled high. By the time the band was into their third set, the party was dissolving. Everyone began crawling home — and I allowed myself to indulge in some sentimental birthday reflection.

Here, donning coats and preparing for the cold of the world outside, were my friends: actors, poets, journalists, photographers, professional problem-solvers and artists. Though I’ve known most of them for only a couple years, I’d be lying if I said I was wasn’t immensely grateful for them all.

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