Stages Sessions: INDEPENDENT

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I hurriedly brushed my teeth and grabbed a jacket. It’s 9 pm and I’m late. I ran down the stairs and kissed each member of my family to say bye. It’s Sunday and dinner had just finished. I don’t always go out on Sundays, but made an exception for “Independent.”

“Waze says to take Lawton,” I tell my partner. “it’ll take us 18 minutes. But I’m not sure where to park.”

There was no traffic, but unsure of where to park, we took the safe bet of going to the Fort Strip and walking to the Maybank Theater.

“It’s cold AF!” I texted my interns since one of them said it wasn’t that cold. I had brought a thin jacket which barely helped me.

We climbed up to level 1 and were guided to our seats. Gio Levy was singing and dancing his last song. In his barong, he stood in the middle of his backup singers who were also wearing barong. I’ve only watched him perform twice and though I only watched the last 30 seconds of his performance, I was amazed.

Gio Levy

I’m not sure what his first two songs were, but I was used to seeing Gio with a guitar and singing covers and a few originals. Seeing him dancing and really maximizing his talent was surprised me. “We should get this guy for a gig.” I thought.

After Gio came Coeli. She walked to the stage, confident and looking beautiful as ever. She made a short spiel then started her set with “Magkaibigan o Magka-ibigan”. Seeing Coeli perform with The Manila String Machine blew my mind.

Coeli San Luis

I’ve been used to watching her gigs (I’m a big fan) and seeing her perform with Andrew or Miguel doing backup vocals and playing the acoustic guitar. But really, I wish you were all there to watch this performance. The Manila String Machine made her songs sound more whole.

Before her last song, she acknowledged the presence of her family. I couldn’t see clearly but I swear there might have been tears in her eyes. I understand how overwhelming being on that stage would’ve been. She let go of her cello for her last song and played it with a guitar. This, honestly, made me appreciate Coeli as a musician even more. She was out of her comfort zone, but sang and played “Puno” beautifully. It was a very moving song, too, very positive and full of hope.

Keiko Necessario

Up next was Keiko Necesario, who Coeli introduced as maganda and truly, Keiko looked beautiful in her little black dress. I moved a bit forward from my seat as she started her first song. I wanted to hear it clearly. I was curious to hear her songs with strings so I focused.

“Her voice,” I thought, “I’m such a fan of her voice.” Keiko, I believe, has one of the best voices in our industry today. It shows so much emotion. I was pretty much mesmerized by her throughout her whole set.

She then introduced Curtismith, who I first watched live three days prior to the event. He performed his first song, “Waves”, with Stages Sessions’ Erica Tolentino, who I teased the day after about her hidden talent. I was curious how he would play a full band with a string and horns section, so I patiently wait for the “umf”. By his last song, he maximized the whole band and I was just floored. The horns sections made everything sound so chill and smooth. I don’t even know how to explain it.


The two performers that I was most excited to see were also the last two acts. First was Bullet Dumas, who I’ve been a fan of for awhile now. I was in both Dama Concerts so I wanted to see if he would bring something new to the table.

Bullet started with one of my personal favorites, “Tugtog” then played “Put To Waste.” He ended his set with “Usisa”, a song about one of Jose Rizal’s characters in “Noli Mi Tangere.” If you were there that night, you’d probably agree with me that that was one of the best performances that night. In fact, people gave Bullet a well-deserved standing ovation. All I can say about his performance is: ginalingan as usual.

Bullet Dumas

Bullet then introduced the final act as one of his favorite bands in the local scene, Tom’s Story.

The lights, the acoustics and the Manila String Machine made Tom’s Story’s performance close to perfect. I would have wanted to put the volume up on the strings, but due to some technical sound thing that was explained to me but I couldn’t really understand, it was alright. I guess if you focused enough, you can hear the strings better. But this didn’t stop the audience from singing along to “Mugato.” All in all, Tom’s Story gave it their best and expectations were met.

Tom’s Story

Stages Sessions really put the “umf” in creating gigs. It was a beautiful concept and the venue was perfect. I do hope they continue to do something like this again, with more acts and/or longer sets.