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Jessica Lá Rel Casts a Spell at Wine & Cheese

Jessica Anderson '14 - also known as Jessica Lá Rel -played a captivating set at Wine and Cheese this past Wednesday. (RAHIM ULLAH/The Stanford Daily)

I pull up to Kairos for Wine and Cheese shortly after 10. I almost worry I’ve come to the wrong place. Caution tape adorns the building’s front entrances without explanation. As I approach, my hesitation is assuaged by a louder and louder rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.” Following a more confident crowd, I step around the back, where a few unguarded bouncers open a door. I walk in, unsure what to expect.

Modest string lights tie the room, and the crowd, together. Our assembly occupies the floor and the couches and the tables indiscriminately. In the corner, a few diligent hosts pour out, dispensing red and white wines freely for new friends and old friends alike. Tonight, I am simply one of an ever-changing cast of characters. At once, I am stranger and familiar.

As I recognize a friend across the room, I step into the throng, a diverse, amorphous clutter. To some people, Kairos is the medium, not the destination, and the night’s soundtrack is ambience to their own conversation. But to most, the music is spellbinding. This majority is bound together in purpose, gaze, and awe.  

Jessica Anderson, also known as Jessica Lá Rel, is the night’s able muse. She and her band tick through “Lay Me Down” (Sam Smith), “Ain’t Nobody” (Chaka Khan), “Freedom,” (Beyonce) and other songs, drawing from a discography of soul, pop, and reggae. Jessica carries this set list with charisma and sheer vocal talent, as well as the assistance of a tireless live band and backup vocals. Though the set list risks Top 40 fixation at times, the night is salvaged by the band’s immaculate performance, a heartfelt original song on black uplift, and the crowd’s eager reception.

Afterwards, my friend tells me that I experienced a unique Wine and Cheese. Jessica, a former Stanford student, is an infrequent performer. String lights are similarly uncommon, and usually small EDM acts headline.

But the secret of Wine and Cheese is that every night can be unique. It works around a fulcrum of acute presentness, which allowed me, a first-timer, to feel at home with long-time attendees, and which allows the event to evolve with little regard for its previous forms. It is not bound by tradition, but by whatever pieces of light, sound, and feeling the hosts and travelers assemble for the night. No one can recreate Jessica, or inhabit her vocal talent, or draw her crowd. But new combinations are inevitable, and even welcome.

I leave at 11, sure that I’ll come back another Wednesday night, even knowing it won’t be the same.

Contact Josh Seawell at jseawell ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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