“Faye! We have a gift for you!” A small gaggle of friends hoists a miniature vase brimming with fresh flowers in the air, excitedly gesturing for the singer on stage to accept it. This was no ordinary concert. It was an unassuming Tuesday on the outskirts of Penn’s campus when Faye Webster, Atlanta–born alternative/indie singer, enraptured an audience of students from her perch on the World Cafe Live stage.
The event was the crown jewel of the student group Jazz and Grooves, a subcommittee of Penn’s Student Planning and Events Committee, that bridges the Penn community with an eclectic range of artists from cities far and wide. In their biggest event yet, Jazz and Grooves sponsored performances from Hannah Jadagu—student by day, rising star by night—and headliner, Faye Webster—multi–talented musical chameleon.
Tuesday's crowds that filtered into World Cafe Live stood in stark contrast to the rowdy stampedes that took to Penn Park for the preceding weekend’s Spring Fling Concert. World Cafe Live’s quaint underground stage and Webster’s pared–down setlist made the event feel more like an intimate gathering of friends rather than a performance.
Despite being a college student herself at New York University, Webster’s opening act, Hannah Jadagu, spent her Tuesday evening nestled on the Philly stage, playing songs from her 2021 EP What Is Going On? Despite being the same age as—if not younger than—most of the crowd, Jadagu performed with humor and sincerity, with a carefree demeanor as she cracked jokes with the crowd, coaxing their energy to life. Jadagu ebbed and flowed between original songs like “All My Time Is Wasted” to an inventive acoustic cover of M.I.A.’s 2007 hit “Paper Planes.”
There’s a plain honesty in Jadagu’s lyrics. Her words clung to her dynamic mix of guitar riffs and melodies trickling out of her computer perched on a stool. Her song “Think Too Much” might have been the perfect song for a crowd of students as she reminisced on the passing of time and the existential dread of one’s dwindling youth. The lyrics gave power to her vulnerabilities as she sang: “Stuck in the past up until I turned 18," and later, "I’m so scared to be 23 / Education, and relations, oh, and morality.”
There could not have been a more well–matched pairing than Hannah Jadagu and Faye Webster. Jadagu harnesses the same poetic sincerity that is a hallmark of Webster’s music. Be certain to stay on the lookout—though Jadagu’s career is in its infancy, she’s certain to flourish with incredible grace and widespread success soon enough.
In a seamless transition, Webster humbly meandered onto the stage, with an eager, knowing smile tugging at her lips. Coming hot off her spring tour for her 2021 hit album I Know I’m Funny haha, Webster’s performance became a time capsule of her greatest hits including those from her masterful 2019 album Atlanta Millionaires Club. From “Better Distractions” to lighter, more mainstream hits like “Right Side of My Neck,” Webster seamlessly marries humor and frank honesty—her stylistic choices are an art form. “Right Side of My Neck” details a melancholy goodbye between two lovers. Much of the song is overtaken by her proclamation “the right side of my neck still smells like you.” But between the echoing refrains reminiscing of her lover’s lingering scent, she confesses, “But we just said goodbye / You looked back at me once / But I looked back two times.”
Nestled between songs, Webster took a brief interlude to play a cover of her “favorite song from Animal Crossing.” Webster is a creative at heart and seems to find inspiration in all things. An avid lover of her home city Atlanta, a die–hard Braves fan, and a prolific photographer, she manages to engage with these pleasures simply because they bring her joy. It’s that same simplicity that echoes through her music. In an interview discussing her unique songwriting style, Webster emphasized that there’s both humor and sincerity in the way she describes love, heartbreak, and sorrow. Her title song, “I Know I’m Funny haha,” evolved from a feeling to an idea, to a song and her album title. In a press release for the song, she shared that some might not find the song “worthy or pretty enough to be sung, but she thinks that's what makes it relatable—because “it tells a story so simple and understandable.”
To the same effect that Webster finds inspiration in all–consuming emotions, she commands her audiences with a hypnotic affect. Her melodic lyrics fall from her lips like a prayer, with her head turned up to the rafters as if ascending from the stage. One might almost have expected her body to lift off and float above the crowds. It’s an experience like no other to be privy to a performance from an artist like Webster whose every move is alive with poetry and raw artistry.
As her brief set ended, the audience emerged from their trance, exploding in “encore” chants. Though Webster exited the stage with no indication of an encore, her outpour of devotion and talent lingered heavily in the air, marking the halls of World Cafe Live and the memories of those in attendance that Tuesday evening.