Jul 26, 2014

Hannah McDonald: The Center of Divided Attention

The story of a young Redwood City musician who brightens up the small stages of our town.

Hannah McDonald: The Center of Divided Attention Hannah McDonald: The Center of Divided Attention


Submitted to Patch by Jeffrey Gonzalez. 

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Inside City Pub the waiters and bartenders go to and fro with plates in hand and, presumably, a circus of thoughts running circles in their minds.

The table at the other side of the pub is occupied by a party of rambunctious friends well into their journey towards inebriation. Another table toward the front door hosts a middle-aged couple whispering into each others ears as they smile, enjoying the atmosphere and reminiscing.

In front of the makeshift stage in the back corner is a table of women playing the girls’-night-out game, doing whatever it is girls do on those particular nights.

All of them go about their business under the cloud of music raining above them.

Redwood City’s own Hannah McDonald, 22, plays her acoustic guitar in the corner and gets divided attention from her audience. She covers hit songs in her own styling and drifts in and out of people’s minds. And right in the middle of her version of Mumford & Sons' "Little Lion Man," no one notices how she slipped the words "banana hammock" into the chorus.

Singing with her tongue in cheek, she continues playing, and everyone goes as they were, as if the music and lyrics were just white noise in the pub. It is not until she breaks out singing the Dixie Chicks that the bachelorettes finally start singing along with her.

"My friends started giving me goofy words to sneak into songs," says McDonald. "No one listens to the words anyway, so I did it."

It became a game for them - whoever hears the word gets a free beer from everyone at the table.

Playing local coffee shops and pubs like Angelica’s Bistro since high school, McDonald has learned to spice things up for herself and her friends. She plays solo, performing her own songs and acoustic renditions of popular tunes. Most of the time it is just like that - her, a guitar, and a dining audience. But sometimes, when her friends are not in the audience writing silly words for her to sing, they are next to her playing percussion or lead guitar. She openly invites her buddies to play alongside her.

In the spring of 2011, Mikey Klein moved to Redwood City from Arizona. One night he went to City Pub and met McDonald after one of her performances. With her open personality and her genuine interest of people, she let him into her community. The two have since become great friends and have bonded through playing music, starring in a condom commercial, and everything else in between.

"She’s awesome. I’m glad she plays at City Pub, or else I wouldn’t have met her. And she also actually introduced me to a lot of the friends I’ve made here in California," said Klein. “If you’re reading this: Hi Hannah!"

With a laugh so contagious it could start an epidemic, McDonald is constantly energizing the friends around her. Pulling buddies away from stale conversation at parties to play rowdy group games such as Spoons or Round Robin, or just asking questions at a dinner table, she leaves little room for boredom to reap. But when she is not hanging around her friends, joking or thinking out loud next to her boyfriend, Hannah is playing her guitar, singing her heart out and learning to empathize with others by singing their songs.

Blending and transitioning from song to song with her guitar the way a DJ blends tracks electronically, McDonald uses the small stages in her hometown as steam valves to relieve the pressure made from the musician inside of her. The gentle applause and din from the restaurant patrons becomes the atmosphere around her as she breathes in the sense of community she creates. Half the audience is strangers and the other half is friends, but for a sporadic few moments in the night, all of them are her listeners.

Standing in front of everyone, she sees some familiar faces - her mom and sister at the bar talking; her dad farther down the bar ordering a beer; the waitress who smiles every time they make eye contact; Mikey hitting on, and possibly creeping out, some girls by the door; and her high school friends at a table laughing at a joke that was probably only funny because they are all drunk.

“I love it when my friends come. That’s what makes it fun,” she says.

The tips people are not leaving at their tables for the waiters, find their way into a jar close to the stage. When she is all done singing, there are still two-and-a-half hours until last call. Using her tip money from the night and splitting it with anyone who played with her, she orders up some rounds for her and her friends. She goes from group to group, from friend to friend, joining in with them and catching up with everything she missed while on stage.

Talking and laughing and talking some more, her night with friends is complete. And just as no one noticed how she slipped the goofy words into her songs, in the glee of conversation no one notices how she sneaks the genuine joy of having her friends and family into her smile.

Have you ever seen Hannah McDonald perform? Tell us in the comments below.

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