Luke Bulla

Vienna Teng and Alex Wong at City Winery

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I decided to label this post Vienna Teng and Alex Wong at City Winery because we specifically went to see them. They were part of a lineup in one of many Showcase performances during the 4-day APAP (Association of Performing Arts Presenters) Conference.

I’ll cover everyone who appeared on stage, which will make this another very long post. I’ll summarize all of the performances first and then get more detailed.

Third in the lineup, but first in our hearts (before and after the show) were Vienna Teng and Alex Wong. They were extraordinary in every respect.

Closing the show was WPA (Works Progress Administration). They were completely engaging, played the longest set of the night, and were the only ones permitted to return for an encore. They are all wonderful musicians.

Jeff Daniels was the MC for the evening, but a musical one at that. He picked his acoustic guitar with fury and purpose, sang wonderfully, and kept everyone laughing (through his songs and stories) every second he was on stage. He opened the show, and came on between every act.

Grant Lee Phillips rounded out the lineup, appearing after Jeff’s opening numbers. He has an excellent voice, plays the guitar really well and was accompanied by a piano/midi player, creating quite a full sound. There was a lot to enjoy about his performance, but it didn’t entrance me.

Excruciating details to follow. If you found this space because you searched for your particular favorite artist, just skip down appropriately. I’ll cover them in the same order I summarized them above.

A month ago we saw Vienna and Alex for the first time at Joe’s Pub. I covered that show in this very long post. While the character of the show last night was very different, every word I wrote in the Joe’s Pub post still applies, and our awe of both Vienna and Alex (independently!) continues to grow.

A brief recap of their respective strengths:

Vienna has an angelic voice which she can modulate over a large range. In addition to hitting high and low notes, she modulates ferocity, singing in a near whisper at times and belting it out at others.

She writes songs that move you both lyrically and musically. Armed with those attack vectors, one or both will be sure to knock you down and keep you riveted throughout her performance.

She is unreal on the piano. We couldn’t imagine a world without her voice and lyrics, except that when she’s only playing the piano, one can easily forget that there’s more to appreciate and explore.

ViennaTengPiano

She’s also easy on the eyes, so there’s no need to scan the room to keep your visual interest either. 😉

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Alex is talented on so many levels it’s hard to capture in a “brief recap” of his strengths. At the core (for me) is his spiritual connection with the music, which he captures and conveys to the audiences in whatever instrument he happens to be playing (and he plays so many, it’s mind-boggling).

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We discovered Vienna through our love of Alex’s other project, The Paper Raincoat. In The Paper Raincoat, Alex plays a variety of instruments but leaves the drumming to the amazing Adam Christgau.  While Alex plays a number of instruments in support of Vienna, he’s mostly a percussionist, adding depth and coloring the mood of Vienna’s masterpieces.

Alex sings well, mostly in haunting harmonies with Vienna, but occasionally some leads as well.

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The above recaps their generic strengths all of which they exhibited at last night’s show. They put together a great one-hour set with a wide range of styles (nailing the concept of a Showcase).

They produce a sound that is unimaginably big for only two people. I described one of the techniques that they use in my last post, looping their voices and instruments to create layers and self-harmonies. They took it to another level last night.

When they played The Last Snowfall (the first cut from their current CD, Inland Territory), Alex took over the piano duties and Vienna just sang. I put just sang in italics because Vienna looped her voice multiple times. At the end of the song, she was singing four part harmony. I am not kidding. It was stunningly beautiful.

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I think I took her aback when I joked after the show that I was expecting five or six part harmony. Not everyone immediately gets my sense of humor. 😉

ViennaTengMelodica

Similarly, Alex often loops the drum sounds. While it certainly sounds like multiple drummers (in perfect unison), it’s actually much more interesting than just multiple drummers (a sound I love, used by The Allman Brothers and The Grateful Dead for example). Alex achieves the feel of echoes in a completely seamless manner.

Expecting this kind of technical pyrotechnics in a studio is one thing. Experiencing performers doing this live on stage, in real-time, with zero margin for error, is astounding. I’ve seen a few people use looping techniques on stage (all to good effect), but none that raise it to a very art form like Vienna and Alex. Bravo!

Once again Vienna closed the set with the electrifying Grandmother Song (also on the Inland Territory CD). This is the only other number that she didn’t play the piano on. If I need to give more detail than the word electrifying, you need to break out your dictionary and help yourself a bit. 🙂

ViennaTengGrandmotherSong

If we only saw their one-hour set, we would have been completely satisfied at the value we received for our ticket price and our night out!

The couple who sat next to us are big fans of Vienna and Alex (so we know they have good taste in music) 😉 and they were telling us how great WPA are, so I was pumped up to see them perform.

There are three core members of WPA and others slide in and out at various times. It’s theoretically a side project for all of them, but it seems to be a stable one, with a potentially long future.

In the center is Glen Phillips, former lead singer of Toad the Wet Sprocket. Good voice, great stage presence, good guitar playing (one of the few people who occasionally finger picks on an electric guitar).

GlenPhillips

On the left is Luke Bulla on the fiddle and vocals. We’ve seen Luke twice before, both times with the Jerry Douglas band. Luke also plays with Lyle Lovett! He is a major talent on the fiddle and he showed it off a number of times last night. He has a good voice too, singing lead and harmonizing with the others. Luke also played one number on the guitar, which he wrote.

LukeBulla

On the right is Sean Watkins on acoustic guitar and vocals. I’ve never seen Sean perform before, but I am very familiar with him. He was 1/3 of Nickel Creek, one of my favorite groups (I own all of their CDs). Sean is an excellent flat picker and has a really good and distinctive voice. Even though the rest of the sound is not Nickel Creek like (due to the absence of the mind-boggling Chris Thile on Mandolin), whenever Sean was singing lead and taking the lead on the guitar, I could hear his Nickel Creek roots, and I loved every second of it.

SeanWatkins

The three of them trade off singing lead and in all cases harmonize together beautifully, in pairs and all three together.

Backing them up last night was a very good bassist, Sebastian Steinberg and on the drums, Jerry Roe. The two of them supported Glen, Luke and Sean very well, keeping the beat lively and interesting.

SebastianSteinberg JerryRoe

Clearly they are all excellent musicians who sing well. We also happen to like that general sound (a blend of Bluegrass and Rock). What particularly tickled me is their lyrical irreverence. Many of the songs that they sing are flat out funny. They are having a great time on stage, and it’s infectious.

One example (of many) is a song that Sean sings about loving a girl who didn’t return his affection. He later finds out she’s a lesbian. He laments:

Everyone’s a little queer, why couldn’t you be a little straight?

Update: Check the comment from Alex Wong who corrects me and points out that the above-mentioned song is by Weezer, called Pink Triangle!

They closed the encore with an upbeat version (nice Bluegrass kick) of Bob Dylan’s You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (Sean sung lead and played a wicked guitar throughout). It was an awesome way to end an awesome night out.

Jeff Daniels (yes, the famous actor) was perfect as MC. He plays the guitar in a hard-charging fingers-flying blues-style picking way. He sings remarkably well. But, crushing that is the fact that he’s hysterical and natural on the stage.

JeffDaniels1

He played two numbers each of the three times he was on stage, effectively having a nice full set for himself as well, even though it was spaced out. All of the songs were funny. One was spoken (a long, wildly entertaining true story about a family vacation). Even the spoken one felt like a song, because Jeff was picking madly the entire time (how he didn’t lose his concentration on either the story or the guitar is beyond me!), which created a beat to the story.

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He was also very kind to us before the show. Lois asked if she could take his picture (we were there early enough to catch the tail end of his sound check). Not only did he immediately say yes, but he suggested that she get in the picture and that I take it. Then, while Lois and I both started to stand up, he said “Don’t move, I can just as easily bend!”, and indeed he did. 🙂

JeffDanielsLois

I have no doubt that we would both jump at the chance to see Jeff perform again. No other acts need to be on the bill!

After Jeff opened the show, Grant Lee Phillips came out. He was accompanied by Jamie Edwards on the piano and midi (sorry, I couldn’t find a good individual link for Jamie). Jamie did an excellent job of complementing Grant’s excellent guitar play, creating a rich sound between them. He also sang a bit of harmony.

Grant has a good voice, and I liked the sound/feel of his music. Unfortunately, that’s where it ended for me. I found myself drifting and unable to concentrate on his lyrics (so I’m not saying they aren’t good, I just don’t know, they didn’t rope me in). Each of the songs felt a bit too long as well. Again, for songs that I love, longer is better, so something was a tad off for me.

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JamieEdwards

In between songs, Grant had my full attention. He’s very quick and very funny. Any tiny mishap on stage was immediately turned into an opportunity to entertain the crowd with his wit. I was very impressed with his stage presence.

In total, this was a very long show, lasting 220 minutes! Give me more Showcases, please! 🙂

Not to be lost in all of the above is that City Winery is absolutely gorgeous. The second we walked in the door we were drawn to look at every nook and cranny of this brilliantly designed space.

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Dinner is meant to be semi-tapas style, or in general, shared. Everything we sampled was excellent, so theoretically, no problem. The one potential problem (that we avoided) is that the tables for four are quite small. If another couple was also sharing at the same time, it would have been unpleasant at best, and impossible at worst. Because we’re always super early, we finished eating long before the other couple was seated, and they got to eat without worrying about us either.

This is a real winery, not just in name. In addition to serving excellent wines (I thoroughly enjoyed my glass of Petite Syrah), they also make their own! This is a place we will be attending many more times, no doubt!

One small-world story to top off the night. For a few months, we had targeted a different show for last night. We have never seen Del McCoury and he was scheduled to play at BB King last night. I can’t explain why I didn’t grab tickets right away, but I didn’t.

A month ago I heard about mandolin phenom Sarah Jarosz. Then I found out she was opening for Del McCoury. To top it off, so was Marty Stuart. My excitement for this show was almost uncontainable. Still, I didn’t buy tickets. Why? I had no idea at the time, but I know now that I wasn’t meant to.

A week later I received an alert that Vienna Teng and Alex Wong were playing at City Winery that same night. Believe it or not, my mind failed to make the connection that it was the same night. I asked Lois and she instantly said “Grab tickets!”. I did.

Literally five minutes later, I turned to her and said “Uh oh, that was the same night that we were planning on seeing Del, Sarah and Marty!”. When I saw her flinch, I thought I should see if I could find someone to take the City Winery tickets off our hands, and still get the tickets for the BB King show. Lois said no, we love Vienna and Alex, let’s just keep things the way they are.

Obviously, we’ll never know how much we would have loved that show, but we know how much we loved the one we were obviously destined to see. 🙂

Update: Oops. I left out the small world part of the above story. Luke Bulla introduced a song that he sang last night as one he has been singing since he was a kid. It was a Del McCoury song. He never mentioned that Del was playing two miles north in Times Square at that exact moment. Perhaps he didn’t even know.

Jerry Douglas and John Oates at Highline Ballroom

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Jerry Douglas has a new Christmas CD out, Jerry Christmas. He’s touring actively in support of that CD. Special guest stars on this tour are John Oates (of Hall and Oates fame) and Maura O’Connell. Both John and Maura are up for a Grammy this year. Jerry has 12 Grammys already!

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We expected the majority of the show to be Christmas songs. They started off the show with the first two cuts from the Christmas CD, The First Noel and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. I was completely entranced.

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The mood was quickly broken. Jerry introduced Maura O’Connell (an obvious crowd favorite). She sang two numbers that were lovely, but didn’t feel Christmasy to me. Maura has a saucy stage presence. While we both typically like artists who can connect directly with the audience, it broke the reverent mood created by the first two instrumental numbers.

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After the fourth song, Jerry introduced John Oates. His first number was Christmas Song (written by Mel Torme). John still has an excellent voice, and he surprised me throughout the show with his quality guitar playing. He is an incredibly self-effacing man, who fit right in with the amazing spirit always put out by the Jerry Douglas Band.

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Sprinkled throughout the set, John played a number of other songs, including She’s Gone (one of the many Hall and Oates hits). He also sang with Maura (and she harmonized on a few of his numbers). Still, most of his songs were not Christmas ones. While they were really good, they too didn’t strike us as fitting the overall flow and mood of the evening.

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When neither John nor Maura was singing, the Jerry Douglas Band played eight of the 12 songs from the new CD. Every one was special, as is the CD (which we own).

The first of a two-song encore was a Gaelic a capella number sung by Maura and Jerry. Gorgeous (he really has a very good voice). Jerry also sang harmony with Maura and John on a few numbers, all well done.

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Jerry also threw in Who’s Your Uncle, a high-energy Jerry Douglas tune that would typically highlight a normal Jerry Douglas Band show. They played Sir Aly B to close the encore. Both Who’s Your Uncle and Sir Aly B are on The Best Kept Secret CD.

Guthrie Trapp blew me away again on the guitar. The man is just incredible. His mandolin playing isn’t half bad either. Lois got him to sign a set list for us (really me) after the show. I was speechless, so she had to do the asking. 😉

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Chad Melton played the drums (like he did when we saw them at the Blue Note). Again, he was excellent. Very understated, but right there with the right beat and sound the entire set.

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Todd Parks was again wonderful on the bass all night, both upright and electric.

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Normally, Luke Bulla fulfills the fiddle playing for the Jerry Douglas Band. He wasn’t there last night (even though he’s on the Jerry Christmas CD), and there was no mention of why he wasn’t there. As good as he is, he wasn’t missed.

Taking his place were two fiddle players. It didn’t take two to fill his shoes, as both are great in their own right. But, especially with the Christmas music, having two fiddle players (perhaps I should say violin this one time), made it sound more like an orchestra playing with Jerry!

I am most embarrassed to say that I can’t remember the name of one of the fiddle players, even though Jerry said his name (once) last night. To make matters worse, I’ve seen him play before (with another band), and can’t for the life of me remember which one. Of course, no end of searching yielded the answer either… 🙁

He was excellent all night, in particular when he played duets with the other fiddle player, and he played mandolin on a few numbers as well. Here’s his photo, perhaps a kind reader can fill in the details for me:

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Alex Hargreaves played the fiddle and sang on one number. He looks like he’s 12. 😉 He’s an absolutely extraordinary musician and has played with some of the greatest musicians in the country, now including Jerry Douglas.

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We had a great time, and loved the show. That said, we each would have enjoyed a more typical Jerry Douglas show, or a Christmas-only show. Mixing and matching worked only in the sense that each song is played by consummate musicians who will make anything sound good, but the flow/magic was missing at times.

Jerry Douglas at Blue Note

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Last night we saw Jerry Douglas play at the Blue Note in NYC. We saw him and the same band (with the exception of the drummer) on April 23rd at BB King. I wrote a long post about that show the next day. Every word in that post applies to last night’s show as well (other than the drummer being different), so I’ll try not to go on too much in this one.

Jerry is considered by most to be the world’s greatest Dobro player, and I am a giant proponent of that view. His fingers mesmerize as they pick and his left hand glides effortlessly up and down the neck placing the slide bar wherever it’s supposed to be. It’s no surprise then that the title of his new (current) CD is called Glide.

In addition to being an incredible musician, he’s also a helluva nice guy (more on that at the end). Rather than go on and on about Jerry, or repeat specific things I said in my previous post, I’ll provide a link here to an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal profiling Jerry Douglas. Last night Jerry sang incredible harmony on two or three songs with Luke Bulla (the fiddle player). It made this quote from the WSJ article all the more real to me:

“I’m a singer at heart,” Mr. Douglas admitted during a recent interview in Nashville, “but when I started playing dobro, I stopped singing — because it took that space in my head. At times I’ll feel strongly about hitting a harmony note with Alison’s voice, accenting the line, and it gives the illusion of there being a harmony singer.”

Jerry Douglas Dobro

Jerry Douglas Dobro

Left-to-right on the stage:

Guthrie Trapp played the guitar (or more accurately, an acoustic guitar and an electric one, roughly 50/50). I place guitar players in two major categories: Solo style artists, where the entire song is really about the guitar (e.g., Andy McKee, Antoine Dufour, Don Ross, Craig D’Andrea, Phil Keaggy, etc.) and ensemble artists, who support a band, taking extraordinary leads whenever appropriate (e.g., Bill Cooley, Cody Kilby, Tommy Nash, Buddy Miller, etc.). Guthrie is in the second camp (not that any of them lacks the talent to be stricly solo guitarists!). He’s one of my all-time favorites (as I pointed out in my previous post).

Last night was magical, in nearly every respect, but if I had to nitpick one thing, it would be that the volume on Guthrie’s acoustic guitar was too low. It was perfect for his electric guitar, but someone even yelled out to him to raise the volume on his acoustic one, and he said that it was at the maximum level. I could hear it, and see his fingers flying, but it would have been even better up a few notches.

Guthrie Trapp

Guthrie Trapp

Chad Melton played the drums (the only change in the band from the BB King show earlier this year). He did an excellent job all night and seemed to be having a blast playing at the Blue Note (actually, they all seemed to be enjoying the experience).

Chad Melton

Chad Melton

Todd Parks played the bass (mostly upright, one number, an electric). He’s extremely solid, just like at BB King. We thoroughly enjoyed his play the entire show.

Todd Parks

Todd Parks

Luke Bulla played the fiddle (and the acoustic guitar on one number) and sang lead on three numbers. Just like at BB King, every time Luke took a fiddle lead, or sang, the applause went through the roof. He’s a genuine crowd pleaser.

Unfortunately, since Luke was the furthest away from us on the stage, Lois was unable to get a good shot of him given the lighting. Sorry Luke!

Luke Bulla

Luke Bulla

They came on stage at exactly 8pm, and left the stage at exactly 9:40pm, for a 100 minute show (including a one-song encore, thankfully without leaving the stage). It was a fantastic show, in every respect.

We wanted to sit right up against the stage, so we got to the Blue Note very early. The doors don’t open until 6pm for an 8pm show, but we were outside at 5:25pm. The weather in NYC was spectacular yesterday, so it was quite pleasant to stand outside. We were the 4th and 5th people on line, and at exactly 6pm, they let us in.

From the BB King show, I knew that Guthrie stands on the left side of the stage (though you could see the instruments laid out anyway, so I would have figured it out even if I hand’t seen them before). I wanted to sit close to him so we chose the table just to the left of center stage, so that we could be right between Jerry and Guthrie (that turned out to be right in front of the drum set).

That worked out perfectly, as Jerry spent a good portion of the evening facing Guthrie, putting him roughly two feet from Lois, and three feet from me. Guthrie was three feet from me, but when he took a solo, he stepped toward Jerry (and therefore toward me). At those times, his guitar was roughly 18 inches from my nose, which was as good as it gets for watching his fingers fly up and down the frets!

Guthrie’s set list was about 10 inches from me. It was also 10 inches from the woman who sat back-to-back from me. I knew she was interested in it, because she took a photo of it before the show even started. When Guthrie took the solos that he stepped forward for, he often stood right on his set list. I couldn’t help thinking that if I snagged it, I could ask a CSI person to make a plaster cast of his footprint for me as a souvenir. 😉

The instant the show was over, the woman behind me grabbed the set list before I could even blink. Lois had to lean over on the stage to grab the one Jerry was using. So, we got one, used by the master himself, but without a shoe print on it. 😉

Set List 20081009

Set List 20081009

Before the show, Lois went upstairs to buy the new CD. We both knew that we overpaid (dramatically) from what it costs at Amazon.com, but we did it anyway, for two reasons: 1) We believe (or rather hope) that the artist gets more of the sale when it’s at a show, and 2) We hoped to get it signed after the show.

Thankfully, at least #2 came to fruition. After the show, Lois went upstairs and Jerry was kind enough to sign the CD and chat with her for a minute or two. At the BB King show, he signed our copy of his American Master Series CD, and chatted with us for a bit as well. He’s simply a super person! Here’s a close-up of Jerry right after signing our new CD:

Jerry Douglas

Jerry Douglas

Typically, the Blue Note fills up earlier than many other clubs that we go to. Even though it seats 250 people, the layout isn’t the greatest (for seeing the performers), as it’s long and narrow, with the stage at the center of the long part. So, if you’re at either end of the club, you have a tough angle at best (even though the sound is great in all parts of the club). So, I believe that many people show up early, trying to get a better seat.

Last night, the club was nearly empty even at 7pm, which was shocking. We immediately thought that it was a combination of two things: 1) The economy (stupid!) and 2) Jerry is a traditional Bluegrass artist, and this is one of the purest Jazz clubs around!

By 7:30pm, the place was nearly full, and when the show started, there might have been a handful of empty seats, but the place was clearly packed and energized. For us, this has obviously been a very depressing week watching the markets and the dire economic predictions. Last night was a respite from the doldrums, clearly for many others as well.

Jerry Douglas at BB King

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Last night we saw Jerry Douglas (and band) at BB King. Opening for them were The Wrights. I’ll cover The Wrights after I review Jerry Douglas, and then finish up with my usual venue summary.

We’ve seen Jerry Douglas before at the Beacon Theater, August 2nd, 2007, when he played with Alison Krauss and Union Station Featuring Jerry Douglas. I covered that night in this post. That show was incredible, as was Jerry specifically. I also love listening to every note he plays on the many Alison Krauss and Union Station CDs that we own.

In 2008, Alison took a break from touring with Union Station to tour with Robert Plant. That left Union Station on their own. I would have thought (and enjoyed it if) they would have toured as a group. Instead, they decided to form separate efforts. I’ve already covered (twice, here and here) our wonderful experiences with the Dan Tyminski Band (one of the members is Barry Bales, the incredible bass player from Union Station).

Jerry Douglas set out on the road (and recorded a new CD called Glide, due out in July) with his own band. For those of you who don’t know, Jerry Douglas primarily plays the Dobro. He also plays a lap steel guitar, and probably other instruments, but mostly, it’s the Dobro.

Jerry Douglas

That said, it’s not accurate to simply say he plays the Dobro. Many people (perhaps even everyone) consider Jerry to be the world’s greatest dobro player. Read his bio if you want to be awed by his accomplishments, independent of being awed by the actual music! For the lazy among you, here’s a one paragraph highlight:

His transcendent technique and his passionate musicality have helped him net twelve Grammy Awards and numerous International Bluegrass Music Association awards. Douglas holds the distinction of being named Musician of the Year by The Country Music Association (2002, 2005, 2007), The Academy of Country Music (ten times), and The Americana Music Association (2002, 2003). In June 2004, the National Endowment for The Arts honored Douglas with a National Heritage Fellowship, recognizing his artistic excellence and contribution to the nation’s traditional arts.

I bolded the mind-boggling stats above. 🙂

It’s not really possible to describe to you how he plays, but here’s my feeble attempt nonetheless. On his right hand, he has picks on every finger. All of his fingers are moving faster than is humanly possible, simultaneously. In his left hand he holds a slide bar, and he presses it on the strings and slides it back and forth. He produces sounds that would seem to require having all five fingers at different fret locations on the neck, but he does it all (magically, mysteriously), by just moving his left hand faster than the eye can see. Whew.

All of the technical wizardry would be interesting, but meaningless, if it wasn’t for the fact the the sound he produces is heavenly!

So, he could come on stage by himself, and captivate any audience, no other musicians need apply. I have no doubt of that. Is that what he does? Of course not. Given his enormous talent, any musician would jump at the opportunity to play with Jerry. He has a band that proves that point, and each of them is worth their own mention. I’ll cover them in the order that they appeared on stage (left-to-right), but you can also read the band bios at your convenience (also linked at the top of this post, yes, they’re good enough to earn two links). Here’s a photo of all of them together on stage:

Jerry Douglas Band

Guthrie Trapp played the guitar (two different electric guitars and an acoustic one as well). He’s a noted Mandolin player, but didn’t play it last night. It would be hard to describe how absolutely awesome Guthrie is. He’s so fast, so smooth, plays in a variety of styles, and nails every single one of them.

One of the most impressive things is when he and Jerry are playing some fast licks together, and he keeps up with his end of the bargain, something not too many guitarists could do with Jerry being the other half of the duet!

I could go on an on, and you still wouldn’t get the sense. Here’s a YouTube video of him playing with a small band doing a bluegrass number, on an electric guitar. If you’re intrigued, just Google Guthrie Trapp and you can find a bunch more videos, both on YouTube and on MySpace. Guthrie melted the crowd into a puddle every time he took a solo!

Guthrie TrappGuthrie Trapp Acoustic

Doug Belote played the drums. A total pro who entertained the entire evening, in an understated (but superb) jazz-style the entire show. He’s not as flashy as some of the drummers we’ve seen recently, but he’s every bit as solid.

Doug Belote

Todd Parks played the upright bass. In addition to playing a solid bass line all night, he took a few exceptional solos, demonstrating a real feel for the music, rather than just banging on the strings to show technical prowess. Well done!

Todd Parks

Luke Bulla played the fiddle most of the night, and the acoustic guitar on one number. He also sang the only two songs that had vocals. He has an excellent voice. As a fiddle player, he’s one of the fastest and cleanest I’ve ever seen/heard. That should come as no surprise for two separate (but obviously related) reasons. First, he has played with (and therefore was chosen by) some of the greatest musicians around, including Ricky Skaggs, Chris Thile and of course, now, Jerry Douglas.

The second reason is his mind-boggling accomplishments. In case you didn’t bother to click over to his extensive bio, here’s a relevant paragraph:

Touring with and singing in his family band from age four, Luke took up the fiddle at seven. Over the course of the next few years, he won the National Fiddle Contest (in Weiser, Idaho) six times in his respective age categories. His seventh win came in the Grand Champion division at age sixteen, making him the youngest to have earned the title at the time.

Wow! He’s nothing short of amazing, and given what I’m about to say next, I need to make you realize that I really mean that! That said, while he’s technically brilliant, for me personally, he doesn’t move me on the fiddle. I mention it only because I’ve covered a number of fiddle players in this space, including a number that totally get to me, and I wanted to draw the distinction. If you care, just search for fiddle in the box on the top right of the page.

To put a fine point on it (and show a small world angle as well), while Luke was playing, I kept thinking that he sounded very much like Jean Luc Ponty. That’s a compliment, not an insult. New Country (on Ponty’s Imaginary Voyage CD) is still one of my all-time favorite fiddle tunes. When I was reading Guthrie’s bio today, he mentions a very wide variety of musical influences. Included among them is Jean Luc Ponty, which gave me a hearty chuckle, given that I couldn’t get Ponty’s name out of my mind last night whenever Luke played!

To be clear, there were many people in the crowd last night that went nuts every single time Luke took a solo, deservedly so.

Luke Bulla Singing

Wrapping it all up, they played a number of songs from the upcoming CD, Glide, expected to be released this July. They played some old favorites as well, including perhaps my personal favorite Jerry Douglas number: Choctaw Hayride. Here’s a YouTube video of Jerry doing it with Alison Krauss and Union Station. In this video, Alison Krauss plays the part of Luke Bulla, Dan Tyminski plays the part of Guthrie Trapp, Barry Bales plays the part of Todd Parks, and Ron Block plays the banjo (beautifully!), an instrument not seen in last night’s amazing performance of this incredible song.

Quite a number of the pieces (including the opening number) were significantly more Jazz than Country or Bluegrass. They were awesome too (as I love Jazz). The majority were more straight-up Country, with some Bluegrass thrown in for good measure.

Toward the end of the show, Jerry introduced a song called Patrick Meets the Brickbats which he wrote for his son, Patrick. He said “this is a slow number”. You can judge for yourself how slow it is on this awesome version on YouTube.

All in all, Jerry is funny, nice, and simply one of the most amazing musicians alive. He was also kind enough to sign our brand new CD of his (American Master Series – Best of the Sugar Hill Years). He had to go backstage to find a Sharpie, but he did, and we appreciate it! 🙂

Including a two-song encore, they were on stage for 100 minutes. Generous enough, but made even better by the fact that they didn’t use the excuse of having The Wrights open for them to cut their show short. That made for a much longer night than usual at BB King, but every person in the audience appreciated it to the very last drop!

OK, enough, there were more people deserving of praise, and it’s finally time to get to them as well! 🙂

The Wrights (this time, I linked to their MySpace page, above was their own website) opened the show at 8:01pm. They are a married couple. Adam plays the electric guitar and Shannon plays the acoustic guitar. Both are excellent musicians. If you want a taste of Adam’s guitar skills, you can listen to the instrumental Tire B Flat on the above-linked MySpace page. He won’t be confused for the likes of Guthrie, but he’s really good, and totally a pleasure to listen to.

Here they are tuning their guitars:

The Wrights Tuning

However, that’s not what makes The Wrights special, and indeed, special they are! Lois has been following them for a while now, and we already owned their debut album Down This Road. It’s great! They wrote all of the songs on it, and as you know from these pages, nothing impresses Lois more than a great songwriter, made even more special when they also happen to be fantastic performers of their own music!

Both of them write, and both of them sing lead (extremely well!) generally alternating songs between them. All along, they sing with rich and beautiful harmonies (and you all know, we’re suckers for great harmonies!).

Their songs are varied, but many of them have a fantastic sense of humor in them, while conveying real life in a deep and effective manner. We loved hearing On The Rocks (from the Down This Road CD) live. It’s fun (and true for most newlyweds) and they did it to perfection last night.

Both of them have a very warm style on stage and were instantly a hit with the crowd. Adam is so self-deprecating, but in a way that is warming and continually funny. One of their more beautiful songs (the last one on the Down This Road CD) is called You Get The Thorns. They did it wonderfully last night.

They were on stage for 40 minutes, every single one of those minutes thoroughly enjoyed by all in attendance! This was the first time they performed in NYC. They acquitted themselves perfectly! 🙂

Here are each of them individually:

Adam WrightShannon Wright

There is an overwhelming gentleness about both of them, on stage and off. Watching them was almost zen-like it the calmness that it produced in me. They are also really nice! Lois bought their new CD (The Wrights) and wanted it signed by them. She got to tell that to Adam while he was unplugging his guitar after his set.

She couldn’t find him between sets, and asked the person working the door to let The Wrights know she was looking for them. He did, and they bothered to come look for her, and after Jerry’s set we were able to say hi, get the CD signed, and get a picture of Lois with them! Thanks Adam and Shannon, we can’t wait to see you again!

Lois and The Wrights

Some words about the venue. The night before, we were also at BB King to see Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo (reviewed here). That night was crazy crowded with roughly 700 people crammed into BB King, the most I’ve ever seen there.

Last night was not sold out, though there was an extremely healthy-sized crowd, all of whom loved the show. If I had to guess, there were between 300-350 people there (normally, BB King can seat 450). We got to sit one table to the left (dead center this time) of our exact two seats from the night before. This time, no one sat in the middle seats of our six-seat table, and a very nice couple sat at the remaining two seats.

Because the place wasn’t as crowded, and because the music wasn’t going to be loud rock, BB King’s matched the mood (as they usually do) with more folk music (much softer as well) before the show started. Between The Wrights and Jerry Douglas, they played Dylan exclusively. Because the volume of the music was so much lower, conversing was much more enjoyable last night.

Unfortunately, it was the night before when we had company that we really wanted to talk to (we talk enough to each other) 😉 and the fact that they were warming up the capacity crowd on Tuesday with blaring rock made me (and probably others) hoarse trying to scream over the music. I’ll take last night’s version of a more mellow warm up any day!

The amazing crab cake that I had the night before was offered again as a special (by the same waiter we had the night before) and I couldn’t resist it again. It did not disappoint. I am convinced the chef is using some magic fairy dust to bind the crab to the other goodies he’s putting in there.

Everything went great last night at BB King, including the staff being wonderful (as usual), with one notable exception. When The Wrights came on the stage, the house lights never went off. Often, this kind of gaffe can be an unwitting signal to the crowd to be rude and ignore the warm up group. Thankfully, while the house lights never went down the entire time The Wrights were on the stage, the crowd was totally in to their performance, and there were no distractions to everyone enjoying the show. Whew!

We didn’t get out of there until 10:55pm, and walked home leisurely, stopping in Grand Central on the way. A lovely evening indeed. We’re hoping to duplicate it again tonight, when we’re back at BB King (third night in a row) to see The Proclaimers!

OK, to finish off, you know the drill. Just one week left in the month-long Girlyman Live CD Contest. Win a signed CD, free, of this amazing band, Girlyman.