The Magic of Martin Zellar


“Music has healing power.
It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a little while.”
– Elton John


This year, like the past several, was supposed to be filled with an abundance of live music. My concert calendar was already starting to fill up as 2020 got underway.

A friend and I had tickets to see Martin Zellar’s NEIL! Tribute on Valentine’s Day and were all set to rock out to Hall & Oates from the nosebleed section at Xcel Energy Center in July. I bought A TICKET – singular – to go solo to another Zellar show in March. My husband and I had seats for Barenaked Ladies, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and Gin Blossoms in June. I was looking forward to another Gear Daddies show at First Avenue in early May… .

But at that February 14 show at the Parkway Theater, I remember hearing people starting to talk about a virus that was wreaking havoc halfway around the globe.

And then the entire world turned on its head.

In the blink of an eye, everything changed. Those concert plans were gone, taking with them all hope for any musical enjoyment this year.

But by far the biggest and most significant question mark on my live music schedule was the Martin Zellar house concert we had booked earlier in the year. The date was three days after the now-canceled Hall & Oates show, and I was absolutely crushed by the thought that this event, too, would suffer the same fate.


Why was this house concert such a big deal? If you know me, you already know.

I’ve been a fan since college and have made a habit of catching at least half a dozen Zellar and Gear Daddies shows every year.

Excessive? No way. Necessary?

You know it.

As a songwriter, Zellar is altogether honest. And purposeful. And brilliant. His expressive lyrics craft each tune into its own melodic powerhouse that can bring out a smile or deliver the most intense gut punch.

And his gentle-calm, low-growl voice provides the most profound delivery of this harmonic poetry. Listening to Zellar’s music is medicinal; it’s therapeutic. His tunes help right the ship when things seem painfully off course.

Y’know, like this dumpster fire year.

He’s also one of the most gracious and likable people I’ve ever met.

So, yeah. For me? This was a big deal. This was a big damn deal.


We needed to adjust the date for the show – and again later, because Mother Nature is a big ’ol bitch sometimes – and attendance would have to be extremely limited (thanks a lot, COVID), but I received confirmation that the house concert was a go.


Holy shit!

I was overjoyed to FINALLY have something to be excited about, since excitement wasn’t really a thing anymore.

I prepared and planned, and I mapped out the performance area and spots for guests, allowing plenty of space for social distance seating. We set up tents and stocked the coolers and purchased way too many snacks. We bought extra masks and hand sanitizer and caution tape – because who even knows what’s real anymore?

And I vacuumed the patio.


And when the day came and Martin pulled into the driveway, I was stoked. So. Unbelievably. Stoked.

He met the dogs almost immediately, because dogs. I mean, they had no idea who he was but were just thrilled to see and sniff another person.

We showed Martin where he’d be setting up and gave him a tour of the house. He met the cats, talked trains with my husband, and commented on my collection of Daniel Craig-era 007 posters lining the basement hallway.

Which led to an awesome back and forth about Daniel Craig being the best James Bond. Ever.

Side note: My dad likes Martin “even more now” after learning of his Double-O preference.

With his sound system ready to go – thanks to a little help from our pooch, Chet the Roadie – and the undersized but enthusiastic crowd trickling in, we were set to safely get this Martin Zellar: Social Distance Tour 2020 House Concert Series™ show started.

I almost wrote up a set list – as a joke, only because I know he never uses them.


Martin opened this 2-set, backyard show with Gear Daddies staple “Statue of Jesus” and then kicked up the tempo with “Goodbye Marie.” After encouraging requests he cranked out “Ten Year Coin,” which I would have asked for anyway, because I love that tune.

And then he belted out my favorite, “Blown Kisses.”

He sang “Everything We Had” and the ultra-heavy “Took the Poison,” both of which I dig like crazy but hadn’t heard performed live in far too long. And we were even treated to some of his newer tunes: “Rose of Jericho” and, by request, “A Thousand Little Things.”

To his credit, Martin honored our other requests, too, as we shouted them out throughout the evening.

He tenderly delivered “So Far Away” and “Brown-Eyed Boy” back-to-back, and I’ll never grow tired of hearing about the influence behind their lyrics. He strummed and hummed a little Neil Diamond “Kentucky Woman.” And though he said he couldn’t remember all the words he nevertheless crooned that achingly beautiful Yazoo tune “Only You.”

And it was perfect.

He paused mid-song only twice and just long enough to swat a mosquito from his arm (I swear we sprayed for those bastards!), or visually do a quick key check before putting his harmonica to work.

As the evening rolled on and the patio lights took over when the sun’s glow surrendered, we sang along to the timeless classics “She’s Happy” and “Wear Your Crown.” We felt that “Low Road” crescendo and joined Martin in hitting those elevated pitches in “Cut Me Off.”

And “Don’t Forget Me” is a wistful song anyway. But on this night, especially, its lyrics hit me like a semi.

“Cause on certain nights when the crowd’s just right/The magic can return/I took so much for granted then; I took so much for granted…”


Those words practically reached into my chest and squeezed from it every possible emotion.

(Deep breath)

Maybe it was because I hadn’t been to a show in forever. Or because this was such a big deal to me. Or because, despite everything else this year had taken away, my favorite musician was on our patio, singing some of my favorite songs – and, on this night, nothing else had to matter.

Or it was ALL of that.



Between songs Martin made us smile and laugh, the way he does, with those whip-smart observations and his endearing, self-deprecating humor. And with those narratives he tells in such detail that you both envision AND feel each experience.

We heard about his family, about his home, and about Randy. Hooray!

Martin shared some insight on how “Stupid Boy” wasn’t supposed to be the quick-paced toe-tapper we all know and love, and… wait, WHAT?!?!

And while we neither heard nor requested “Zamboni,” we did listen as he recalled the most amazing story involving that song, an opportunity, an ultimatum – and the process by which one measures the value of his soul.

If ever there was a high-five moment, THIS was it.

But there were no high fives. There were no handshakes, and there were no hugs. We couldn’t do any of that. Not right now. Not tonight.

This night was about refueling our spirits with solid, soul-stirring tunes. About being respectful and keeping everyone safe.

About being grateful to this talented guy for sharing with us his music, his energy, and his heart – which, for one mid-August night, inspired the return of that magic we so desperately needed to feel.

And it was about, for the first time in a long, LONG time, being excited for something that allowed us to feel happy.

And hopeful.

And… normal.

Photo courtesy of Traci Toomey

You have just enjoyed the insights of Movie Addict Mel, a cinema and music dork and conversational writer. Follow her on Twitter @movieaddictmel, and “like” her Facebook page Also, see more images from this Martin Zellar: Social Distance Tour 2020 House Concert Series™ show on her Melissa King Photography Facebook page.