Emily Elbert first appeared on the stage of Uncle Calvin's Coffeehouse 10 years ago. So, Friday night's show at Uncle Calvin's represents a milestone, one that feels even sweeter for a reason that calls to mind the 1979 Sister Sledge anthem, "We Are Family."
Elbert will share the bill with her father, Roland Elbert, who introduced her to music in the first place.
"A lot of the show will be a duo with my dad," Elbert says from her home in the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles, where such songwriters as Jackson Browne once lived. (See Browne's song "From Silver Lake" on his debut, eponymous album.)
"My dad has been a professional pianist since he was a teenager," Elbert says. "He's come and played a few songs with me, but we've never done a show where the collaborative aspect was central to the show itself."
Her father turns 67 on May 24 and is, she says, "an incredibly hard-working pianist. He plays in Dallas almost every night. But this is a pretty unique opportunity for us to play together. Growing up, I was so shy about my music that he and I didn't really play together until I left for college and started coming back. So, this will be the most we've ever played together."
Roland Elbert was "absolutely my first and probably greatest musical influence," his daughter says. "Hearing his music around the house growing up, hearing him play, hearing the music that he was inspired by" put her own musical leanings into overdrive.
"The thing that I'm most grateful for that I've inherited from my dad," she says, "is, he has very open ears. He studied so much of Stevie Wonder and classic soul and jazz and Brazilian music and also classical music. He's a thoughtful listener. There's like a real humanity and soulfulness in the way that he plays. That's something I've been inspired by my whole life."
Now 28, Elbert graduated from Coppell High School in 2007 and from the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston in 2011. She has recorded four albums and a year ago finished a tour that lingered for more than a year, in which she mastered a variety of roles for lead singer Esperanza Spalding.
She played guitar. She sang background vocals. But she also dabbled in acting, dancing and even puppetry (she operated a marionette!) as part of her work with Spalding, who snared appearances on Stephen Colbert's and Jimmy Kimmel's late-night shows.
"It was extraordinary," Elbert says. "I'd been a fan of hers for 10 years. I really loved her music, and in the truest sense of the word, one reserved for a small group of Earthlings, she's really a genius. And so, just to kind of ride her wave and witness her work and support that work really stretched my brain. I found it to be such an inspiring experience."
It also gave her the opportunity to travel the world, to perform in such venues as the Sydney Opera House in Australia and the Apollo Theatre in Harlem.
And the clothes! It was not uncommon for Elbert and other members of the band to "wear head to toe yellow -- yellow ties, yellow shoes."
Those hoping she recreates the banana look on Friday night may walk away disappointed by the absence of yellow thread, but they won't be by the tunes. Elbert is an accomplished talent in every sense of the phrase, one that embraces the growth and change that any good artist should.
Her work with Spalding "provided me the opportunity to witness an artist I'd been inspired by for a long time and also to apply my skills, apply myself in a different way. By exercising different muscles creatively and musically, it gave me a fresh approach to what I'm doing."
She reveled in the collaboration with Spalding and the band, especially the door it opened to improvisation on an international stage.
"Thinking on your feet," she says. "It varied quite a bit from night to night. And so, to use those different muscles was a radically different experience from what I'm used to. And yet, it strengthened my roots in what I've been doing the whole time, which is trying to express the human experience through song and storytelling.
"In that particular vehicle, it was a very far-out one, a kind of cerebral and experimental version of that idea."
It gave her a fresh perspective to "coming back to myself and the space I get to operate in."
The Spalding experience only widened the scope of Elbert's travels, which have taken her to the Middle East and to Tbilisi, Georgia, where her daily runs took her through a flea market brimming with Soviet-era chotchkas.
Given that one of Elbert's favorite all-time songwriters is Joni Mitchell, it's appropriate to remember Mitchell's landmark song, "The Circle Game." For no matter how far and wide her travels have taken her, Elbert will complete a circle on Friday night, when she returns to Uncle Calvin's to celebrate her first appearance there by playing with her first musical influence, her dad.
PLAN YOUR LIFE
Emily Elbert performs at 8 p.m. Friday (doors open at 7:30) at Uncle Calvin's Coffeehouse, 9555 N. Central Expressway, Dallas, in the fellowship hall of Northpark Presbyterian Church. Bill Sibley opens. $15 in advance, $18 at the door, with discounts. 214-363-0044, unclecalvins.org.
Esperanza Spalding performs, with Emily Elbert singing backup.
Emily Elbert sings "In with the New":