Caroline Spence

Caroline Spence

music Caroline Spence took the stage in blue jeans and a simple white blouse. Her brown hair falling over her shoulders, she flashed a broad smile to the audience. She cradled the acoustic guitar slung in front of her and played her first song of the night, “Happy Go Lucky.” A hearty round of applause followed, and the toothy grin came back. “It sounds really cheesy,” she said. “But I can’t believe this is happening.”

Just 17, if you know what we mean: Plucky young songstress Caroline Spence rocked the Gravity Lounge on Friday night.

It certainly did happen, but her disbelief was understandable. Spence’s June 1 performance at Gravity Lounge marked the release of her first full-length CD, a milestone for any musician. What made the occasion all the more memorable—for both audience and performer—is the fact that Spence is just 17 years old.

Her next piece, “Moon Song,” showcased her ability to hit and hold the high notes, setting her apart from a great many people with acoustic guitars and woefully flat monotones. Spence’s voice is truly colorful, an emotional sound that needs little in the way of accompaniment. Hearing her sing is like getting a hug from someone you love.

Spence’s dynamic range and the ease with which she makes abrupt changes in style imparted a substantial heft to her lyrics. The question “Would it help if we all had somebody to talk to?” became a heart-rending cry of loneliness. In another original, “Pretend It’s Fine,” the catchy chorus alternated between rapid-fire bursts and plaintive, drawn out vowels: “Oh, if you knew the way I yearn and pine/Would you just pretend that it’s fine?”

But for all her songs touching on the themes of loneliness and unrequited love, Spence was far from alone. The night began with an introduction by her album producer (and aunt), local folk songstress Lisa Roberson. Accompanying Spence were Paul Willson and Brandon Johnson, both of whom are featured on her new album, on electric guitar and mandolin, respectively. Also on stage was Carl Anderson, a young songwriter who joined Spence for a couple of his own pieces and a toe-tapping cover of Bob Dylan’s “Wagon Wheel.”

Judging from the standing ovation at the end of Spence’s set, she’ll be much in demand in the future. Better catch her while you can, though. The talented singer, who graduates from Charlottesville High School this week, leaves for a small liberal arts college in Ohio at the end of this summer.

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