Justin Moses

Ricky Skaggs, Punch Brothers, Nancy Griffith and Abigail Washburn at BB King

Send to Kindle

We’ve seen Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder a couple of times, most recently in June 2008. When we saw that they were performing at BB King, we knew we’d be there. The only other act listed on the bill was Abigail Washburn, opening for Ricky. We’ve seen Abigail a number of times, so that was a plus.

What we didn’t know was that two other bands were also performing, sandwiched in between Abigail and Ricky. Since one of them was the highlight of the evening (definitely for us, likely for many/most in the audience), I’ll break my normal format and start with them.

The third act up was the Punch Brothers. I can’t tell you how excited I was when Abigail mentioned that they were on the bill. I’ll gush about each of them in a minute, but the main reason is their leader, Chris Thile. In my opinion, he’s the best mandolin player in the world (there, I said it!). We own four of his solo CDs and all of his Nickel Creek CDs as well (which I simply can’t get enough of).

Chris has unbelievable stage presence. He’s only 29 (soon 30), but he recorded his first CD when he was 13, so he has a ton of experience. His talent would be enough to carry him even if he were wooden on stage, but thankfully, he’s loose and natural and made us laugh throughout his set.

ChrisThileTalking

He sings really well, writes superb songs, and oh yeah, there’s that mandolin magic that simply boggles the mind.

ChrisThileMandolin

I can’t imagine a musician that wouldn’t want to play with him. Conversely, I can’t imagine him having someone in his band that wasn’t superb. That is certainly the case for the members of Punch Brothers.

Chris was center stage. Here are the other members of the group, standing left-to-right:

Gabe Witcher on violin and vocals. Fantastic on the fiddle/violin. Wonderful voice, singing lead and harmony.

GabeWitcher

Chris Eldridge on acoustic guitar and vocals. Amazing flat picking on the guitar. Excellent vocals, mostly three-part harmony with Gabe and Chris Thile.

ChrisEldridge

Paul Kowert on upright bass (no good individual link). Paul is the only person in Punch Brothers who didn’t sing (or even speak). His bass play says it all though, both with a bow and plucking. He’s incredible.

PaulKowert

Noam Pikelny on banjo and vocals. Folks, everyone in Punch Brothers is a world-class musician. Noam is a cut above your average world-class musician. He’s unreal. He’s also subtle. Many top banjo players hack at the strings (not that there’s anything wrong with that, I love that style). Noam can do a lot more with a banjo.

NoamPikelny

A few months ago, he was the winner of the inaugural Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. Check out the judges (including Bela Fleck, perhaps the best banjo player in the world!). I certainly have no quibble with their choice.

Noam didn’t sing much, but he did create four-part harmony on occasion. Most notable was a dryly delivered quip that had the audience burst out laughing. Between songs, he casually stepped up to the mic and in a deceptively deep voice said the following:

For those of us who live in NYC, playing in this neighborhood is incredibly special, given that it’s the last refuge remaining in this great city!

For the one reader who may not know where BB King is, it’s in the heart of Times Square. Everyone in the audience got it and the line was delivered perfectly.

All I can tell you is that the Punch Brothers awed on every single number. We took our goddaughter with us (her husband had to cancel at the last second for a work emergency). When she got home, she immediately bought their latest CD, Antifogmatic!

They are currently nominated for a Grammy. The song, New Chance Blues is available for free download on the front page of their site (linked above), in exchange for your email address!

Back to my normal format of covering acts from the headliner backwards (don’t worry, I won’t repeat the Punch Brothers section). Winking smile

Ricky Skaggs has been a superstar for years. He was a major Country star. More than 10 years ago, he dedicated himself to Bluegrass. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Bluegrass, whether you like the style or not (we love it), Bluegrass attracts some of the best musicians in the world. Ricky and his band (Kentucky Thunder) are no exceptions.

Last night he broke his Bluegrass-only streak. He opened the show with a few Country numbers. They were great. He played an electric guitar and lit it up.

RickySkaggsElectricGuitar

Then he switched gears and played a few songs from his new CD, Mosaic. He started with the title song. To say that the mood changed dramatically in the place would be an understatement. He received applause after each song, but many were polite and in general it was shorter than the first few songs.

After two more from Mosaic, a number of people in the crowd were saying “Play some Bluegrass” loud enough, but no one yelled in a heckling or disrespectful manner.

Eventually, Ricky got to the Bluegrass portion of the show. The crowd went nuts. He broke out the mandolin (of which he is one of the best!) and tore it up.

RickySkaggsMandolin

When Ricky performed Country and the Mosaic numbers, there were 10 people on stage. For the Bluegrass set, the drummer, lead electric guitar and electronic keyboards people left, leaving the core seven people that typically perform in Kentucky Thunder.

Ed Faris and Paul Brewster both play rhythm guitar. The magic that they bring to the group is their absolutely incredible harmony with Ricky Skaggs. The three of them make vocal magic on practically every song.

EdFarisPaulBrewster

Andy Leftwich played the fiddle. He’s always incredible (we’ve seen him at least two times) but last night he was on fire (or I bet his fingers were!). He played mandolin on a couple of songs as well.

AndyLeftwich

Cody Kilby flat picking the guitar. Cody is one of my all-time favorite flat pickers. That you couldn’t hear a single note during the Country and Mosaic part of the set is a crime that should be punishable by a 10-year prison term! Thankfully, he got to work his magic during the 30-minute Bluegrass set. Unfortunately, even then, he was the only one under-mic’ed, but I could still hear and see his brilliance.

CodyKilby

Mark Fain on bass. Marked played electric bass during the Country and Mosaic portions and upright during the Bluegrass. Great on both instruments.

Finally, a very sad note, coupled with a very happy one. I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to seeing Ricky’s banjo player, Jim Mills. I have been mesmerized by him each time we’ve seen him perform. He’s in my top five favorite banjo players. I don’t know what rock I’ve been living under, but Jim left Ricky roughly six months ago, after playing in Kentucky Thunder for 14 years!

On the plus side, another of my favorite all-around musicians replaced him.

Justin Moses played the banjo, dobro and mandolin. I own his solo CD which is awesome. He was the fiddle player in the Dan Tyminski Band (where he also played banjo and dobro). He’s an extraordinary fiddle player, but that job belongs to Andy. While I’ve heard him play banjo with Dan, I didn’t fully appreciate how excellent he is on the banjo until I heard him last night.

JustinMosesBanjo

He played the dobro throughout the Country and Mosaic sets. I know he’s excellent on the dobro from the Dan Tyminski shows we attended. Unfortunately, as with Cody, he was totally drowned out when he played the dobro, I couldn’t pick out a single note.

JustinMosesDobro

I thoroughly enjoyed the Country part of the set (even though I couldn’t hear Colby or Justin), but my dinner companions did not. None of us enjoyed the Mosaic portion of the evening. Oh well, at least he ended with 30 minutes that had the crowd enthralled!

Continuing backwards, skipping over the Punch Brothers.

Another surprise for us was the second act.

Nanci Griffith is a well-known singer/songwriter. We’ve never seen her before, so it was a real treat. She did a wonderful job.

NanciGriffith

We have friends whose favorite group is The Kennedys. We’ve never seen them. They were part of Nancy’s band last night and I totally understand why our friends love them. Maura has a wonderful voice, and Pat played the guitar amazingly and sang harmony.

MauraKennedyPatKennedy

Pat McInerney played the drums really well. He’s been accompanying Nancy for 22 years!

PatMcInerney

I don’t recall the name of the guitar player who accompanied them (apologies). He too sang well, and played well when he wasn’t having technical difficulties.

NanciGriffithGuitarist

A very nice set all around.

Opening the show was Abigail Washburn. We’ve seen Abigail a number of times. We really like Abigail as a person. She has a lovely voice and plays the banjo well. Unfortunately, her set selection rarely thrills us. She has the talent to do so, so it’s more a matter of mismatched taste between what she wants to play and what we want to hear.

AbigailWashburn

She has a new configuration for her band. We hadn’t seen any of them before. They’re all excellent (no surprise).

Kai Welch on keyboards, guitar and harmony. Kai is the main collaborator with Abigail on her new CD. He is the inspiration of her new style and exploration. He is a very good musician and sings wonderfully.

KaiWelchKeyboardsKaiWelchGuitar

Rayna Gellert on the fiddle. Excellent! Abigail teased her that she’s not dramatic enough. Perhaps, but she thrills nonetheless.

RaynaGellert

Alana Rockland (no good link) on electric and upright bass. It’s not often that I see female bass players. Given how talented Alana is, I hope to see more of them, soon!

AlanaRockland

Jamie Dick (also no good link) on drums. Solid throughout the set.

JamieDick

All in all, an epic night of music. The show started at 7:30pm and ended at 11:15.

We had an excellent meal before the show started. I always recommend that you come early for a BB King show and enjoy their wonderful southern comfort cuisine.

Dan Tyminski Band at The Egg

Send to Kindle

On March 1st, we saw the Dan Tyminski Band (DTB) at the Birchmere Theater. I wrote a long post about that which you can read here if you wish.

After we saw them (and bought lots of their music), we continued to be energized by their amazing performance. I noticed that they were going to be in Albany, NY, at The Egg, on April 20th.

That’s roughly 2.5 hours north of our house, not exactly a place we frequent regularly. On the other hand, it seems that no matter where we are, Dan and the boys seem to be roughly two hours north of us. 😉 When they played at the Birchmere, we spent the previous night in Richmond, VA, roughly two hours south of there. So, it seemed fitting to grab tickets and plan our road trip.

We left the house at 4pm and arrived in the underground parking lot at The Egg at around 6:25pm. I ate my dinner in the car, underground. Exactly the way I like it. 😉

We got to the elevator in the lobby and both immediately noticed that Dan Tyminski himself was waiting to go up in the same elevator as we were! Lois excitedly pulled out her CD (the one we bought at the Birchmere and had signed by Dan) and asked him to sign it. He immediately spotted his own signature, and told her it was signed. She told him where it was signed originally, and that she wanted a memento from The Egg as well. He was kind enough to oblige and ended up signing it again in the elevator on the way up.

Dan Tyminski

He’s extremely tall (I had no idea). Skipping ahead for a minute, Barry Bales is significantly taller, and from our vantage, even Adam Steffey appeared to be a drop taller than Dan, making them a bunch of giants. 😉

When we got off the elevator we were in another lobby waiting for the theater doors to open. They opened at roughly 6:50pm for a 7pm show. The Egg has two theaters in it. We were in the Lewis A. Sawyer theater, which seats 450 people and is arranged in an amphitheater style. There is a nice height differential between the rows so that essentially, even the worst seat in the house, isn’t all that bad. We were in the 10th row (second from last), but not too far left of center. We were a tad nervous in advance, but they were excellent seats.

The band came on the stage a 7:07pm. It appeared that they were only using microphones for their instruments (unless they all had wireless jacks to their amps). Definitely no electronic tuners. I mention this mostly because within 15 seconds of walking on stage, they were already playing a fast upbeat number. Tight and wonderful, as expected.

The crowd was clearly in love with Dan and the band. Dan joked that people in the south aren’t aware of all of the Bluegrass lovers in the north. Clearly, there are many! 🙂

The band’s bios can be read here.

Appearing left-to-right (same order as at the Birchmere) were Ron Stewart, Adam Steffey, Barry Bales, Dan Tyminski and Justin Moses.

Ron StewartAdam SteffeyBarry BalesJustin Moses

They were all brilliant last night. Ron Stewart played mostly banjo, but also was awesome on the two numbers where he played fiddle. Adam played the mandolin exclusively, and was mind-boggling. The crowd begged Dan to turn Adam loose, and he did, and Adam blew us all away! Barry was amazing on the bass (as he always is), and sang harmonies with Dan and Justin.

Dan was great all night. My one semi-complaint at the Birchmere was that Dan didn’t take enough guitar leads (he’s superb!). I don’t know if he read my blog for that show, but last night he took considerably more leads (thanks Dan!), but they were still all short. He’s very generous with the rest of the guys, and I think he feels guilty that his name is on the door and that he’s singing non-stop.

Finally, Justin Moses. This guy is simply killer! He played fiddle most of the night. Dobro on one song, and banjo on another (those are the two songs that Ron played the fiddle on). He also is the primary harmonizer with Dan (even on songs that Barry doesn’t sing), and he’s terrific on every instrument and singing as well.

I really like his solo CD which we bought at Birchmere.

When they wrapped it up they received one of the fastest (and complete) standing ovations I have ever seen. It was almost like there was a spring in each of our chairs, propelling us out to show our appreciation for their talent. They left the stage briefly and came back for a one-song encore. In total, 93 minutes on stage. A little on the short side, but thoroughly satisfying in every way.

One of the fascinating things was the entirely different feel of a theater like environment vs a dinner-theater venue. We like the dinner theater ones (Joe’s Pub, BB King, Blue Note, Birchmere, Highline Ballroom, etc.), but, having fixed seats, that all face the stage has it’s plusses as well. Last night, with the steep height differential between the rows, we also had another change in perception. We were looking down on the band (by quite a bit), whereas at Birchmere, we were looking up at them from a remote table.

The perspective was interesting.

We were extremely glad we made the drive. We were home at 11pm, so not all that bad!

We’ve already pre-ordered the new CD (Wheels) expected to be shipped in late June. First 500 people get a signed copy, so we’re hoping we ordered early enough.

At the Birchmere, Dan broke a string during one number. I am reasonably sure he replaced the string off stage. Last night, Dan broke a string in the middle of a number. He waited until Ron started a banjo solo, and while Ron played, followed by Adam taking a solo, Dan actually replaced the string on stage, while singing, and ended up playing the guitar during the end of the song. Bravo! 🙂

One final thing. These guys clearly love playing together, and being together. They banter hysterically on the stage, with Adam handling more of the duties than Dan, but they all partake (except for Justin, who is the target of some of the banter). Here is a shot that captures some of that mood. 🙂

Dan Tyminski and Adam Steffey Fooling Around

Almost forgot, but at least I didn’t, to remind the rest of you to get your entries in to the Girlyman Live CD Contest. Only 9 days left to win a signed copy of Girlyman’s new Live CD. Enter now!!!

Dan Tyminski Band at the Birchmere Theater

Send to Kindle

I’ve known about the Birchmere Theater for at least six months now, perhaps a little more. For the past seven years that we’ve been coming down regularly to Fredericksburg, VA, we weren’t paying attention to the live music scene here, spending all of our music time in NY. That all changed when we saw The Wailin’ Jennys at Gravity Lounge in Charlotesville, VA on November 17th, 2007.

Ever since that event, I have at least paid a little attention to what’s going on in VA when we’re down here. Over time, I noticed that lots of artists that we truly love play the Birchmere. In reading about it, it sounded like a great place to see a show, and many famous artists claim their start at the Birchmere.

We nearly went there a few months ago, I think to see Ricky Skaggs (one of our favorites). One of our hesitations was that it was a general admission type of place. That can always be a risk. Many of our favorite places in NYC are general admission as well. While it can be annoying (and at times even painful), at least we know the drill at those places, and we play whatever game we need to in order to get good seats (most of the time). In the end, we decided not to risk it for Ricky, with other factors tipping the scale as well.

A while ago, I noticed that the Dan Tyminski Band was scheduled at the Birchmere on March 1, 2008 (last night). We love Dan Tyminski. He’s the primary guitar player in Union Station of Alison Krauss and Union Station Featuring Jerry Douglas fame. He’s also the voice of George Clooney (well, the singing voice) 😉 in the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

We saw Alison Krauss and Union Station at the Beacon Theater. Dan Tyminski was awesome that night, as were all of the members of Union Station. That included the bass player, Barry Bales, who is now the bass player for the Dan Tyminski Band as well. Not only is he an incredible bass player, he sings harmony on many numbers and his voice is fabulous!

We decided to take the plunge and get tickets. The night before we saw the Jennys at Gravity Lounge, we had dinner with two of the single employees at Zope Corporation. We asked them if they wanted to join us for the Jennys, but both had plans. They both indicated interest in being invited to a future event.

So, when we decided to see the Dan Tyminski Band, Lois send out a blind invitation to a number of the single people in the company that had expressed an interest in live music in the past. Two of them were available and interested, so we bought four tickets.

Because I didn’t know anything about the Birchmere, I made some assumptions, which (of course) turned out to be wrong. I gathered a list of 10 restaurants that were all very close to the theater, and sent links to three of them to the two guys. They both picked Lilians (which was likely my first choice as well). Here is how the one review (linked above) begins:

This place is rad. Imagine a squad of fine latin women dressed in short black skirts and revealing tops serving drinks and awesome Salvadoran and Mexican cuisine.

When I mentioned this to another friend of mine, he said “Sounds like a Spanish Hooters!” Indeed, I wonder why two single guys, roughly half my age, would have any interest in eating at Lilian’s? 😉

Yesterday morning, I did something that I should have done before I asked them where they wanted to eat. I went to the Birchmere website, and read their FAQ. I immediately found out that this place is like most of the general admission places in NYC, meaning they serve dinner at the place. That’s one of the few positives about general admission. You have to show up very early, but at least you can relax, eat, drink and enjoy yourself without then rushing to make it to the show.

Unfortunately, we never got to experience the Spanish Hooters directly, but perhaps, some day. I love Mexican food, enjoyed the one Salvadoran meal I’ve ever had, and now feel the overwhelming need to report back to my loyal readers whether the rest of the review is accurate as well. 😉

So, we picked up the two guys and headed north, early. My plan was to get there by 5pm when the ticket doors open, then perhaps wander around the neighborhood a bit, returning at 6pm when the theater doors open. The best laid plans…

I have a GPS (I’ve written about it before, when mentioning that it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given). I set the address and off we went. When I was coming up on the exit, I was telling a story. I heard the GPS telling me that I needed to make a left, but she’s often a little late with the voice prompts, and I was certainly late in following the directions. I missed the exit. No biggie, because the GPS always tells you what to do.

The only problem was that we ended up crossing the Potomac River into Washington, D.C, before she guided us back (yes, since the voice in the GPS is female, Lois and I believe that the GPS itself is a woman) so the detour was much longer than expected. We didn’t get to the theater until roughly 5:15pm. We received ticket number I11, and had no idea whether that was good or bad.

Different than all of the other general admission places that we’ve been to in NYC, there is a very large indoor space at the Birchmere, where you can comfortably wait until the 6pm doors open. There is a bar, but no pressure to buy any kind of drink. Lots of seats (tables and benches). What an incredibly nicer way to treat your early arrivers than in NYC, where we stand like idiots in a line on the sidewalks outside of our favorite clubs…

We relaxed and chatted. The 45 minutes passed quickly. At 5:57pm, they announced how the numbers (our I11) worked. They called out every single number, in order, so there was no reason to rush the door. Wow, exactly as the FAQ explained it, and on time like clockwork. Regular readers will know that my appreciation for this type of behavior is over the moon.

The Birchmere understands the two most critical rules of customer service:

  1. Communicate clearly with your customers and prospects (set expectations!)
  2. Deliver the exact experience that you communicated

Could it be any simpler than that? No, but it’s the rarest of companies that delivers even #1 (the easy one!), and you can count on one hand the number of companies that then deliver #2…

They started last night with H49. That meant that we would have a bit of a wait to be called, but it shouldn’t be too brutal. That was correct. H49-H99, then I00-I11. Roughly 15 minutes, I think. But, we were indoors, seated, and knew exactly when we would be called. More than acceptable.

When we got into the theater, we immediately liked what we saw. The layout was similar (with some very significant differences) to BB King in NYC. Lots of tables, most seating 12 people (some smaller tables as well). Nothing was left near the stage, but there was an empty table for 12 2/3’s of the way back on the left side of the stage, with what appeared to be a fantastic view of the stage. We grabbed the first two seats on either side of the table and settled in.

We ordered drinks and food (mostly comfort food, burgers, BBQ, chili, salads, etc.). Food was wonderful (I had the pulled pork BBQ sandwich with homemade chips and spicy coleslaw). Everyone liked their meal. Service was excellent.

I am pretty sure that the concert was sold out, but there was a seat or two empty, likely from people who ended up simply not showing up after buying their tickets. I tried to guess the number of people, and my guess was 600 tops, but definitely between 500-600. BB King seats 400, and this place seemed to seat more (not that it was larger, but BB King has the bar inside, where the space at the Birchmere was filled with tables).

The show started at exactly 7:30pm, as advertised. The band came out to wild applause, and began playing fairly quickly. They were instantly awesome. Five people on stage. I’ve covered two of them already (Dan and Barry Bales). From left-to-right, here were the remaining three players: Ron Stewart, Adam Steffey and Justin Moses.

Ron Stewart primarily played the banjo (amazingly), but also played a mean fiddle on a couple of tunes. Ron reminded me of poker superstar Daniel Negreanu, and I couldn’t get the image out of my mind of a poker-playing banjo player. Ron talked a bit, but never sang a single note. Ron is one of the best banjo players I have ever seen/heard. Bela Fleck is perhaps considered the best, and we’ve seen him, and perhaps he’s better, but Ron is close. We’ve also seen Ricky Skagg’s banjo player, and he won banjo player of the year six times.

Adam Steffey played the mandolin, brilliantly. He was also incredibly funny, reminding both Lois and me of Bill Engvall. He only sang on one song (lead!). He was great, with a very deep voice, but perfectly pitched. It was surprising to me (after hearing him) that he didn’t participate more in the vocals. Adam is one of the greatest mandolin players I’ve ever heard/seen. He is so clean it’s amazing. He’s fast too.

Unlike the Ron Stewart vs Bela Fleck comparison above though, I think that Chris Thile is even more incredible than Adam. That’s not to take anything away from Adam. It’s like comparing Tiger Woods to Phil Mickelson. Phil’s no slouch, and neither is Adam. 🙂

Justin Moses played the fiddle (mostly), but also played the banjo and the dobro. He was masterful on all three, but in particular, was amazing on the fiddle. He sang harmony all night with Dan and Barry, and hit a lot of high notes perfectly.

Steffey, Bales and TyminskiRon Stewart and Justin Moses

The five of them are all amazing talents individually, who blend together to form a perfect bluegrass band. I should mention that Dan sang his heart out all night. He is also an extraordinary guitarist, but last night, he gave 99% of the solos to the rest of the band, and only played lead guitar in two or three numbers, and those were short licks. He anchored the music with great rhythm guitar all night, along with Barry’s amazing bass playing.

As amazing as Union Station are (and they are truly amazing), many of Alison Krauss’ songs are very slow, and sometimes quiet. Talented musicians can shine on those numbers as well, but more up-tempo numbers give them more opportunity to show their wares.

Last night, there wasn’t a slow song in the bunch. Every single song had a driving beat (with no drum in sight!), with energy that had every person tapping their feet or swaying their heads, that had them sweating their little hearts out on stage. It was simply fabulous.

The crowd erupted into a standing ovation at the end of the show, and they played one song for an encore without leaving the stage in between.

I went up to one of the staff after the show and asked what the seating capacity was. 500, so I was correct on my estimation of the range. 🙂

After the show, Lois bought two DVDs (one by Ron Stewart and the other by Adam Steffey), and three CDs. None of these merch items are cheap, but it’s one of the most direct ways to support the artists, so we try to do it! Lois then stood in line (she was roughly 15th in a line that ended up getting very long!) and got all five of our goodies signed by the respective artist. Of course, since she’s so unselfish, she had each of them sign it To Hadar. Awwwwww, she’s so sweet. 🙂

Signature Party at Birchmere Theater

We had a fantastic time. We would go see the Dan Tyminski band or any of the individual members again in a heartbeat. We will definitely go again to the Birchmere. It won’t be hard to find a reason to go there, since they have top act after top act. For example, one week ago, David Bromberg and the Angel Band played there. Al Jarreau was there on Feb 12th (two days before we saw him in NYC). Acoustic Alchemy was there in early February (one of my all-time favorite groups) but we were in NY and couldn’t make that show.