Daveed Goldman didn’t even want to go at first.
He took one look outside — snow was falling hard and fast in Toronto — and would have stayed home if he could. The last thing he wanted to do was sing with a bunch of strangers, including his collaborator, Nobu Adilman.
But the musician reluctantly grabbed his guitar and headed downtown for a sing-along born out of a one-time choir for a friend’s birthday party almost three years prior that he helped organize with Adilman.
Goldman silently kicked himself as he went.
“I was like, ‘No one’s gonna come. They’re not committed to this thing at all. I wouldn’t even come,’” he recalled. “But when I got there, 20 or so people actually showed up, some literally on their bicycles — I mean, it’s Toronto. We had a really fun night. It was very simple. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we could sense there was something there.”
After a couple hours, as they packed up to leave, Goldman tried to get a feel for the room.
“Okay, maybe we’ll do this next month or something? Would you guys be up for it?” he asked.
“Let’s do it tomorrow,” they responded.
The group compromised, and held a sing-along the next week — and then the next week, and the week after, and the week after that.
That was over seven years ago.
“It just never stopped,” Goldman said. “We never planned on this being a thing. I did not expect this would be my job; I never had any idea that I would lead a choir of sorts. I never wanted to do this — I’m a performer on my own and never wanted to sing with lots of people like this — but it was cool because I started to realize that what we were doing was not being done anywhere else.”
What began as a weekly drop-in singing event has turned into an international movement — comprised of equal parts music, comedy and community building that is ultimately recorded and produced into a video.
Since the start, they have called it Choir!Choir!Choir!, which will make a stop at Guild Hall in East Hampton on Friday, August 18. From holes to hills to big stages, the duo has played Carnegie Hall to The Juno Awards to TEDx Toronto, collaborating with names such as Rufus Wainwright, Patti Smith, and Tegan and Sara — creating a “mini-project we’re all a part of for a couple hours,” Goldman said.
“We don’t want people to go home and think, ‘That was fun, we sang a song,’” Goldman said. “We want people to go home and think, ‘Well I wasn’t expecting that.’ It’s two guys on a stage, but we hope that we create moments that are memorable beyond just singing music.”
One such moment came to fruition during a recent show at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver, when an idea struck Goldman. He turned to Adilman and said, “We should take these people outside.”
With an affirmative nod from his partner, he turned the question on the audience — a choir of 700.
“Who wants to go sing outside?” he shouted into the microphone. “Meet us outside, on the street, in five minutes.”
The crowd erupted in cheers, and responded by rushing out of the theater onto Granville Street, taking over the major roadway at 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night.
“I was like, ‘These people can wait for four minutes while we sing ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac. They can f——g wait, or they can turn around, I don’t care. I want to create a scene,’” Goldman said. “We literally started singing ‘Dreams’ and we sang it through. Buses and cabs had to turn around. They didn’t honk us — they’re Canadians, they’re pretty polite — and we finished singing and people freaked out.”
He laughed to himself. “To see how excited people were to sing this song in the middle of their city, in the middle of the street at night …” he trailed off. “They weren’t expecting it.”
On a typical night in Toronto — where they perform twice weekly at their home of 3½ years, Clinton’s Tavern, that regularly accommodates 300 singers each night — or even in East Hampton, everyone gets a lyric sheet of the evening’s song.
Then, the hosts take the stage and “talk shit for at least 15 minutes, though some of it goes on way longer than that, and people will be like, ‘When are we gonna sing?’” Goldman said.
“We’ll say that: ‘You all thought you were gonna sing, but you’re gonna listen to us talk about our parents, or why my neck hurts, or toilet paper, or sex.’ We’ll talk about everything,” he said. “I love making people uncomfortable. I live to create those awkward moments. We’re still gonna get to singing ‘Hallelujah,’ but they didn’t expect this.”
Now affectionately known as “DaBu,” Goldman and Adilman have honed their chemistry on stage and off — the former with a rougher, brooding delivery, and the latter a bit gentler and lighter. After their banter, they break the audiences into parts, and get down to teaching.
“We really push. I get pretty serious with people,” Goldman said. “I’m just like, ‘That’s not good. You just need to sing better. You have to try harder. Try. Harder. How many times do I have to tell you that the note goes up at the end. I’ve said it 40 times.’
“Someone will keep making the same mistake 40 times and I’ll literally find out who it is, bring them up on stage and do an interview with them like, ‘Why is it that you cannot get this? What is it about this particular note that you can’t seem to find?’” he continued. “We’ll do all that sort of stuff, but it’s all for fun. It’s all to create an energy that people don’t forget.”
The duo pushes and prods and pokes the audience — and does the same to one another. Despite outward appearances, they come off as brothers on stage, and it can get heated.
“When you’re on stage with someone at least twice a week for seven years, sometimes it’s not so good,” Goldman said, “and we just keep it super real and we don’t hide any of that stuff. For us, it’s really fun to be able to perform in that way.”
In the early days, the stakes were low, he said. They had no expectations. It’s hard to even remember what it was like — that first night with the snowstorm.
To say Goldman is glad he turned up is an understatement, he said. Think of what he’d have missed otherwise.
“I want people to also feel like they missed something if they don’t come,” Goldman said. “I try to always keep people guessing, and that keeps it fresh for us, and fun for them. The night is very simple. It’s really just two dudes on stage and a lyric sheet. There’s no bells and whistles — maybe we should have more than that — so it’s really just a big hangout. But it’s always celebrating music, and music does bring people together.”
Choir!Choir!Choir! will come to Guild Hall, located at 158 Main Street in East Hampton, on Friday, August 17, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $25 to $45, or $23 to $43 for members. For more information, call (631) 324-4050 or visit guildhall.org.