When a band plans a tour there is very little wiggle room in any given city. They’re generally on the move all night (if they have a professional bus driver), or all day (if they’re driving themselves). There are many things you can’t control when planning months in advance.
Two such things are the unbelievably frigid temps currently inhabiting NYC (thanks global warming!) and the local team making the championship game in the NFL (thanks J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS!).
The weather and the Jets might have kept some fans from making it out last night (entirely their loss!), but it didn’t stop The Grascals from blowing away those of us who were smart enough to choose them!
This was our third time seeing The Grascals and it most certainly won’t be our last. The other three people at our table had never seen them before. They are indescribably amazing (or, as one of the people we saw it with noted: “The Grascals are truly absurdly talented”). Of course, I’ll still do my humble best to give you a sense of their magic.
Highline Ballroom is a wonderful place to see a show, in particular one with a big group and a big sound. The Grascals are that.
While all six members of The Grascals blend perfectly together, I actually view them as two separate groups (more accurately, a group within a group). Each group is great in their way but the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. To whet your appetite, check out the amazing number of awards they’ve won as a group and as individuals.
Group #1 is a core vocal and rhythm driven ensemble comprised of Jamie Johnson (guitar and vocals), Terry Eldredge (guitar and vocals) and Terry Smith (upright bass and vocals). The three of them sing so well individually (each sings lead) and together (three-part harmony on every non-instrumental song). Jamie and Terry share MC honors, keeping everything light and funny in between songs.
Terry Smith is also a top-notch bassist. On two numbers he demonstrated a perfect slap technique that was a blast to listen to and watch.
Group #2 is comprised of three of the best instrumentalists you’ll ever hear (they don’t even have vocal mic’s so you never hear them speak or sing). Danny Roberts is an incredible mandolin player. Jeremy Abshire is an extraordinary fiddle player. Kristin Scott Benson is a mind-boggling banjo player (multiple time Banjo Player of the Year winner!).
Each of Danny, Jeremy and Kristin can give solo performances that knock your socks off. When they play together, most of the time one of them is being highlighted in the lead, but the other two are supporting the effort with complementary riffs. On some songs (only one brief moment last night), they have duels, which have them each repeating the same riff in a competition where the only winner is the audience!
When Groups #1 and #2 combine (on most songs), you get the best of both worlds. Amazing vocals sprinkled with virtuoso leads on the mandolin, fiddle and banjo.
They were all on fire last night, and the audience gave extended ovations after every number (and for nearly every lead during each song). Each of the three soloists was brilliant.
Jamie then thanked us and introduced the last song, Sally Goodin, off of their self-titled album (The Grascals, for those of you not paying any attention). On that CD, the song is just under four minutes, and features incredible solos on the fiddle, banjo, mandolin and then around again.
Last night, as incredible as each of Jeremy, Danny and Kristin was, this last song took it to another level. I didn’t have a second of disappointment during the earlier numbers, but after this, I realized that they were holding something in reserve.
Jeremy opened the number (just like on the CD). After his solo, Kristin took hers. Then Danny. Just like on the CD, Danny’s solo was longer than the others, only last night, Danny’s kept going (and going). Then Jeremy walked to the middle of the stage and took over Terry Smith’s vocal mic as everyone else took a few steps back.
He wailed on the fiddle in one of the longest, most inconceivable solos. Every time it looked like he was about to relinquish the lead, he took it up a notch. You had to be there to believe it. Finally, after leaving us all shivering a bit, Kristin stepped back to her mic and continued the round until they finally called it a night.
Their live version of Sally Goodin lasted over nine minutes. It was more than twice as long as the CD version. Jeremy’s solo itself lasted longer than the entire CD version. All I can say is that if that were the only song they played (meaning, if the entire show was just those 9+ minutes), I would have felt that I had gotten my money’s worth. The rest of the show was a bonus!
Every person at Highline rose to give them a long standing ovation. Of course, they came back for an encore.
New York, those of you who passed on this show have no idea what you missed. OK, perhaps you know now. If you miss the next chance to see The Grascals when they return, it will be on you then. You’ve been warned!
After the show, we purchased an EP and one CD that we didn’t already own. Both Jamie and Danny signed them for us.
Here is a representative set list (not the identical one played last night) with the two CDs that we bought:
To top it all off, the five of us shared a fantastic meal and enjoyed each other’s company for two relaxing hours before the show started. The food at Highline Ballroom is wonderful, but our companions were even more wonderful.
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