Wolftrap

Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby at Wolftrap

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We saw this group at BB King in NYC nearly 18 months ago. I briefly mentioned the show, including that they were awesome, in my uber rediscovering live music post.

We’ve been to Wolftrap twice before, but both shows were at The Barns. Last night’s show was in the Filene Center, which is the main pavilion for concerts. It’s an outdoor venue, with a cavernous covered area with proper seating, and a large two-tiered lawn system that is completely outoors behind the main structure.

We bought our tickets months ago and even back then were forced to select seats way to the right of the stage. They were in the fourth row, so that part was great, but we were three and four seats off of the extreme right aisle. I’ll cover the opening act later (a group we’ve seen before and like as well).

Ricky, Bruce and Ricky’s band, called Kentucky Thunder came on stage at exactly 9pm. The crowd wasn’t just there for an evening out, as it was clear that they were giant fans of either Ricky, Bruce, or both (as we are).

Let’s do a 30,000 foot tour of what’s great about these guys:

  1. Bluegrass music is fantastic, and these guys are amazing, individually and collectively
  2. Ricky and Bruce have excellent voices, and sing great individually and collectively (great harmonies) together and most often with Paul Brewster
  3. Every single member of Kentucky Thunder is a phenomenal musician. I’ll call out three of them in a bit
  4. Ricky is one of the best mandolin players
  5. Bruce is a mind-bogglingly great piano player
  6. Each has written a body of music that stands the test of time
  7. They are fun and have tremendous stage presence

I could go on, but if you don’t get the point already, a few more whacks on the head won’t convince you. πŸ˜‰

Last year they released a CD called Ricky Skagss & Bruce Hornsby (catchy title). In March of this year, they released another, named Honoring the Fathers of Bluegrass: Tribute to 1946 & 1947. They played a bunch of songs from both CDs. They also played a few more of Bruce’s big hits, done reasonably differently than the original Bruce Hornsby and The Range versions.

For the most part, the Bluegrass versions (of Bruce’s songs) work great (even though I still prefer the originals). In the case of Mandolin Rain (which is on last year’s CD), it’s not even 20% as good as the original (IMHO). It’s cool, and if I didn’t know the original, I would like it more, but I feel teased when I hear this version. A better example is their rendition of The Way It Is (title cut from Bruce’s album of same name). It’s a really great Bluegrass version (though I still like the original a little more).

As you’ll see below, Lois didn’t have her usual unfettered access to the camera during the show. She didn’t get off many shots to begin with, and under the circumstances, most of the shots came out poorly at best (lots of ghosting and lighting problems). I would have foregone putting any pictures in the post, but Lois works hard for all of you, so to honor her effort, I’ll put them in. I won’t make any more excuses on each individual picture, this is my one disclaimer. Please don’t blame her photography skills for the results… πŸ˜‰

I’ve already said that both Bruce (on piano) and Ricky (mostly mandolin, but also amazing on guitar on three numbers) are incredible. Let’s cover the rest of the band, left-to-right on the stage.

The only guy to the left of the grand piano, and reasonably far behind it in the back of the stage, is Andy Leftwich on fiddle. He’s truly amazing. We’ve seen some great fiddlers in the past year, so I’m not sure I can say that Andy is the best of the best, but I’m equally unsure of any flaws that he has that would keep him out of that group, so suffice it to say he’s a joy to listen to! Andy was obscured from our view the entire night, so unfortunately, no photos of him.

Behind the piano, just to the right of it, dead-center stage, is Mark Fain on upright bass. Excellent all night, but only highlighted in one number, late in the evening. Solid, never a distraction.

Mark Fain

Toward the right side of the stage were three acoustic guitarists in a row (slightlly unusual). The first of them is Cody Kilby. Of the three, he plays primarily lead guitar. Run, don’t walk, to his MySpace page and listen to the four songs on there. His fingers move so fast and his leads are extremely interesting. I had to stare at his fingers to really beleive that one man could make the sounds that came out of his guitar. It sounded like two great lead guitarists playing at the same time. Nope, it was all Cody. Wow! I’m definitely getting his new CD!

Next was Ben Helson. Bruce introduced Ben as being new to the band. Unfortunately, the Wikipedia page I linked to above shows him as a former band member, and still shows Darrin Vincent on the main page. In any case, it’s definitely Ben in the middle of the guitar trio. He plays excellent rhythm guitar and sings backup vocals on a very few numbers. Solid, but not highlighted at all.

Next was Paul Brewster. Also played rhythm guitar, but featured on background vocals on nearly every song. He has an excellent voice, complementing Bruce, Ricky and both together whenever he joined in.

The three guitarists together:

Kentucky Thunder Guitarists

Finally, Jim Mills on banjo. He has won quite a number of Banjo Player of the Year awards (the site says four, but I recall Ricky say six or seven when we saw them at BB King last year). He definitely deserves it. His banjo playing is so crisp, clean, fast, interesting, driving. We’ve seen some truly great banjo players in the past year as well (like with the fiddle and mandolin players), and for my taste, Jim is probably in third, very (very) close to number two. My top pick is Bela Fleck (more on him in a minute). Second is Ron Stewart (currently part of the Dan Tyminski Band).

Here is Kentucky Thunder, minus Andy Leftwich, who is to the left and behind the piano, out of our view:

Kentucky Thunder Minus Andy Leftwich

Here is a YouTube video of Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder. There are a few nice highlights of Andy playing fiddle, Ricky on the mandolin and Cody on guitar.

In the middle of the set, they asked anyone in the crowd who wanted to come up and do some clog dancing to join. No one volunteered, and you had to wonder whether people thought they were just joking around. After some more teasing a few people climbed the stage, which started a flood. There were roughly 30 people on stage with them, dancing around in a frenzy. It was cool.

Cloggers Ricky Skaggs

It also highlighted a truly idiotic policy on the part of Wolftrap. There are a few signs around (not all that prominent, but also not invisible) that there is no photography permitted (even without a flash). That’s just silly in this day and age. Of course, not only were tons of people taking photos throughout the show, many were doing it with flash on as well. Ushers were flying all over the place admonishing people, even as others a few rows away kept snapping.

The reason I say that the clogging highlighted it is that even with 30 people on the stage dancing around, clearly to the delight of the crowd, ushers were trying to stop people from taking pictures (of their loved ones, etc.). Truly silly, but what can you do… Lois got off some shots (and got yelled at once) but she took five percent of the number of shots she would have if it was permitted. She never uses a flash during a performance, even if it’s allowed.

I will come back to one cool part later (you’ll understand why I’ll tell that part out of order when I get to it).

They played an amazing 97 minutes before saying goodnight. After a rousing standing ovation, Ricky, Bruce and Jim Mills came out on the stage alone. For this one number, Ricky played the fiddle (really well!) and Bruce played the accordion (to the delight of the crowd!). Then the rest of the band came out and rocked the house with another full-energy number which ended with another standing ovation. Total time on stage 112 minutes of pure joy!

Here are Bruce on the accordion and Ricky on the fiddle during the first song of the encore:

Bruce Hornsby Ricky Skaggs

The opening act was Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet. They too have a new CD out called Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet. We saw them at Joe’s Pub in January this year, described briefly (by my normal standard) πŸ˜‰ in this post.

I mentioned above that Bela Fleck is my favorite banjo player. He plays every conceivable style (bluegrass, classical, jazz, country, dirges, etc.), all fantastically. Abigail Washburn has a great voice, and plays the banjo extremely well too. Casey Driessen is an incredible fiddle player and Ben Sollee is a superb cello player who also sings gorgeous harmony with Abigail.

Here’s a shot of Abigail and Bela. Ben and Casey were obscured in this photo so I cropped them:

Abigail Washburn Bela Fleck

The four of them play extraordinary instrumentals. That said, while Abigail’s voice is wonderful, her song selection leaves Lois and I a bit puzzled (in both concerts). They could be a super group, but the selection will relegate them to also-rans in my opinion. Lovely sound, well executed, but just off target…

They came on stage at 7:58pm (two minutes early, a rarity indeed). They were introduced, and started playing at 7:59pm. They left the stage at 7:47, so they gave a very nice warm-up show, with very little down time between acts. I was very impressed by Wolftrap in that regard!

The surprise I alluded to above is that well into the Ricky and Bruce show, they invited Bela to play with them. He’s recorded with Bruce a couple of times (and probably Ricky as well). He was on stage with them for 25 minutes (very nice indeed) and on one number, played a cool banjo duet with Jim Mills. Tons of fun. Bela is just a superstar in my opinion.

Ricky Skaggs Bela Fleck

Wolftrap can hold 7,028 people in total (at Filene), with 3,868 under the structure and 3,160 on the lawn. During the Sparrow Quartet set, there were hundreds of seats empty including the six to Lois’ immediate left. There were entire sections left and right of the stage, at the back of the seating area, without a single person in them. We were shocked, given that I didn’t have that much choice when I purchased tickets months ago.

I assumed that when Ricky and Bruce came on, it would be full. It wasn’t. Barely a few dozen of the empty seats were filled in the intervening 13 minutes between performances, so we slid down five seats and got a better angle for the main event. By the time the show was over, the seats were practically full (an empty seat here or there, like the one Lois left empty between her and the person she slid down next to). I don’t know if people just showed up late, or if they allowed people from the lawn to come down. The lawn still seemed pretty crowded so it could have just been late folk.

Anyway, a fantastic show all around that we thoroughly enjoyed.

On the downside of the evening, getting out of the parking lot there is a total zoo. It took nearly 30 minutes to get out. Then we were making great time down I495/I95. When we were 15 minutes from the hotel, taffic came to a dead stop. Oh oh. Highway repaving. Fun. It made the last 15 minutes take 45 minutes, which turned out to be not as bad as it first appeared it would be. Still, we didn’t get to bed until nearly 1am, which for us, is the equivalent of dawn. We slept for 5.5 hours and came back to the office, exhausted, of course…

Kathy Mattea at Wolftrap

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Last night we saw Kathy Mattea for the second time on her Coal tour (that’s the name of her new CD). The previous time was at Joe’s Pub on October 24th, 2007 covered in this post. We both thoroughly enjoyed that show, as you can see for yourself if you clicked on that post.

To me personally, the most important nugget in that review was my statement that:

Bill Cooley is possibly the greatest acoustic guitarist I have ever heard!

I’ve been following him closely ever since (and have written about him and his CDs a number of times). Here are two links for Bill Cooley, one being his new MySpace page. When he let me know about his new MySpace page, I blogged about it. During that first visit to his new page, I saw that he was going to be at the Barns at Wolftrap with Kathy on April 1st and 2nd, 2008. We already had tickets to see Girlyman there (which was to be our first time at Wolftrap) on March 26th, 2008.

I told Lois that I would be happy to pass. I think Kathy is wonderful, but the Coal stuff, while extremely interesting and moving (she delivers it with all the emotion due such a project!), is heavy stuff, and hearing it again live wasn’t a priority.

Lois is a long-time fan of Kathy’s, and I would have been thrilled to go there if Lois really wanted to see it again. I shouldn’t have been surprised by Lois’ (unselfish) answer. She said “Bill Cooley is your favorite guitarist, how can you pass up an opportunity to see him?”

OK, that cinched it, we grabbed two tickets, unfortunately, in the balcony, since Kathy is a big name that fills seats quickly. At the time we bought the tickets, we had no idea whether that was going to be nose-bleed territory, or good seats. Also at the time, we were scheduled to be down at Zope for two weeks (the week before during the Girlyman show, and then this week).

If you read this space regularly, you know that got turned upside down with our unplanned trip to back to NYC to see Girlyman again on Sunday March 30th, 2008, covered in this post. That meant running back to VA to see Kathy. We had to drop our young guest off anyway, so it wasn’t a chore.

When we saw Girlyman, we saw that the balcony seats weren’t that far. Lois noticed that they were plastic, while the chairs in the main area are like padded dining room chairs. At least we knew what we’d be in for last night, a week in advance.

OK, finally, the show, followed by tons of background info (trust me, it will be worth reading the background if you like connectedness stories).

Kathy came on the stage just with Bill at 8:03. That was already exciting (for me). πŸ˜‰ She sang a slow ballad without her guitar, with only Bill accompanying her. After that song, the other two members of the band came on stage. Eamonn O’Rourke and David Spicher. Here’s what I wrote about Eamonn in the Joe’s Pub post, and there’s no need to change a word:

Eamonn O’Rourke is an outstanding mandolin player. His fiddle playing is even better. In the past few years, I’ve seen some amazing fiddle work. While I wouldn’t say that Eamonn is the best (like I did for Bill Cooley above), he certainly isn’t far from it. He also sings harmonies with Kathy.

David Spicher plays the upright bass and is new to the band. He was absolutely outstanding! Like Eamonn, he sang harmonies with Kathy (more on that later). Here’s David’s bio from the above link:

David Spicher (bass & vocals) The son of session fiddle king Buddy Spicher, David’s performed with Crystal Gayle, Merle Haggard, Pam Tillis, the Jerry Douglas Band, polka queen Lynn Marie, the Nashville Symphony, and his own Nashville Swing Band.

They can now safely add Kathy Mattea to the above string of stars that David has played with. πŸ™‚

The new Coal CD was released yesterday, so last night was the first chance for anyone to buy it. Kathy talked about the release as a birthing process, so she intended to change things up on this special day from previous nights on the tour. At Joe’s Pub, she intermixed the mostly Coal songs with a smattering of her hits. Last night, she announced that the first set would be the hits part, with Coal coming in one long shot after an intermission.

This was a crowd well familiar with Kathy’s hits. One wonders whether they come there to really discover the Coal stuff, to simply support the new effort, or secretly hoping that Kathy will do enough of the hits to make it great, regardless of how they respond to Coal. The first set didn’t disappoint even for a second. She was great on the hits, and the crowd loved every second of it.

Roughly four songs into the set, she asked if there were any requests. The Barns have phenomenal acoustics, so you could hear the individual requests quite clearly, even in the balcony! People screamed out so many different titles. After a bunch were screamed out, someone yelled out another, and many of the people in our section starting murmuring to each other (not loud enough for Kathy to hear) “Yes, that’s a good one.”

All the while, Lois was trying to get me to yell out Asking Us To Dance. I didn’t do it, and I could tell she was disappointed in me. I don’t recall hearing anyone else yell it out either, so that meant that we could only hope it would be played later in the set, by design, rather than by request.

A minute later Kathy had decided what she was going to play. She turned to the bass player, and said “You’ve never heard this one before, so just fake it in C”. πŸ˜‰

Then she started playing Asking Us To Dance! I have written before that Lois is Always Right (search if you want to read it, it pains me to link to it so many times) πŸ˜‰ but what I am not sure I’ve ever mentioned in public before is that Lois also conjures people and things by simply speaking about them out loud. No, I’m not kidding! Perhaps that’s why we have such an affinity to Wicked! πŸ˜‰

To repeat, the rest of the set was spectacular as well, and the band is scary good, as individuals and as a group. Of course, Bill nails every single guitar riff, the subtle ones, and the scary fast ones as well.

Here’s an admission that I hope will be taken in the spirit it is intended (meaning, this has nothing to do with Kathy’s abilities!). On occasion, without trying or thinking about it, I realize that I’m concentrating on Bill’s playing, and Kathy’s voice becomes the background accompaniment to this extraordinary guitar playing. Again, that’s not to say that Kathy isn’t an amazing headliner, she truly is.

This is possible because Kathy is extremely generous in giving Bill so many opportunities to shine. I am willing to swear on a stack of bibles that she looks over at Bill with the same awe that I do, every time he takes a solo. They’ve been playing together for 18 years, and she’s no slouch on the guitar herself, so if I’m right, it’s a beautiful thing to see that she appreciates him now as much (if not more!) than she did in the beginning.

In addition, Bill arranges much of their music (he arranged the Christmas Tour and worked with Kathy on the Coal album as well). In other words, in addition to being a genius on the guitar, he’s also an amazing musician from a theory point of view as well.

The first set lasted 55 minutes. After a 15 minute intermission, they came out for the Coal set. As Kathy herself jokes, it’s quite depressing. It’s historically important to never forget the stories and times that these songs are about, but that doesn’t make it any more lighthearted. It’s beautiful stuff, extremely evocative, but it’s not something I’d want to listen to constantly.

Ironically, it’s in this set that Eamonn really wailed on some fiddle playing. You have to blink really rapidly to make sure it’s possible to move your fingers and the bow that fast and make such gorgeous sounds at the same time. Wow.

They finished with the same instrumental (the only instrumental of the night) that they did at Joe’s Pub, including Kathy playing on the penny whistle (or piccolo, or tiny flute, who knows?). I am crazy about that song. I could swear it’s something either Nickel Creek or Chris Thile plays too, but I’m not really sure. Simply brilliant.

They left the stage at 10:20pm, which made for two hours of playing (not including the intermission). A very generous show! I’m extremely glad we went. That said, as much as I loved the show (and I did!), it’s the rest of the story, coming up right now (to a browser near you), that really made the evening special!

I said I’d mention the harmonies. They are pleasant (and professional) enough, but very sparse (only during choruses) and both Eamonn and David seem to sing the same notes (meaning, two-part harmony, not three). Bill doesn’t even have a mic, so he doesn’t sing on stage. After seeing Girlyman twice in the last week, the harmonies last night felt gratuitous. Nothing wrong with them, but hard to call them harmonies in comparison…

OK, now is the part of the post that I most enjoy writing, and I hope I don’t lose you along the way.

When I first posted the above-referenced announcement of Bill Cooley’s MySpace page, I got a lovely comment on my blog from a complete stranger, Willa Shaffer. After replying to her comment, I visited her MySpace page. As a result of that, and another page of hers that I visited, we exchanged a few emails directly.

She is a very big Kathy Mattea fan and saw my Bill Cooley news via a Google alert. Since she has been to many Kathy concerts, she knows the band well too, including Bill. She’s a big fan of Bill’s as well! Great! She let me know that she would be at the same show we would be at, and that she had seats in the first row, so coupled with her photo on MySpace, I should be able to find her easily. Cool. After a few more emails, we stopped communicating until a week ago, when we confirmed that we would try and get together.

As an homage to Willa, let me provide a link to another of her favorite artists. She feels similarly about Krista Detor as Lois and I feel about Girlyman. Meaning, not only does she love Krista, but she really works hard to make sure others discover her. Here’s my small attempt to help her on her mission!

We got to the Barns at 7:15 and bought both the Coal CD as well as a John Vezner CD (that’s Kathy’s husband, who is an amazing songwriter, who Lois really loves). There was a sign at the merch table saying that Kathy would be out to sign CDs after the show. It was our intention to get on line and get both CDs signed.

We went in to the Barn (theater) at 7:40 and took our seats in the balcony. It seemed further away from the stage than the view from our fifth row seats made it appear the week before. On the other hand, the plastic seats were surprisingly more comfortable than the padded ones on the floor. We looked for Willa, but she had let me know in advance that she couldn’t make it early, so we decided to wait for the intermission or after the show.

At 7:45pm, both Lois and I noticed that Bill came on the stage to set up his guitars. He was alone on the stage. Lois encouraged me to go down and say hello. We were very far away, and I didn’t know if he’d still be there after I climbed down the stairs and made my way to the stage, but Lois insisted, so I dutifully went. I indeed got to shake his hand. He remembered that I was from NY (which was cool in itself!), and thanked me for coming. We agreed to connect after the show. Here’s a grainy photo that Lois took of that encounter from the balcony:

Hadar and Bill Cooley at the Stage

Yes folks, that’s my honking bald spot. Nothing more to see here, keep moving along…

At intermission, Lois told me to go down and look for Willa. Given my mental image of her (with reasonably light hair color being the key, since we could only see the back of people’s heads!), I declined, since I had no likely suspects. Lois went instead. After standing there for a few minutes, and asking one woman (who declined to accept being called Willa), Lois was about to head back.

At that point, the real Willa stopped her and asked if her name was Lois? Haha. Thank goodness I sent Willa a link with our pictures in it as well, so she recognized Lois from that! From the balcony, Willa’s hair looked jet black. It wasn’t.

Willa mentioned to Lois that there were four empty seats in the row behind them. Lois asked the usherette whether we could move down from the balcony and she said yes. Cool. So, for the second half of the show, we were in the second row, in the exact same seats that we were in three rows further back for Girlyman! While it would have been great to sit in those seats for the entire show, I have to admit that having both perspectives during the same show was quite interesting.

After the show, we got on line and waited to get our CDs signed. I was also waiting for Bill to come out. After a while, Willa joined us and said that Bill almost never comes out, and that I should go back to the stage to catch him while he was packing his guitars. I hesitated, and didn’t go. After a few more minutes, I decided to hit the men’s room before our long drive back to NY.

When I came out, Bill was standing there with Lois and Willa. Willa was so kind to have gone back and asked Bill to come out! Thanks Willa!

We chatted briefly with Bill and Lois took this photo of us together:

Hadar and Bill Cooley

By this time, it was getting late, and we were going to push through all the way back to NY, so reluctantly, we bailed on meeting Kathy. Bill signed our CDs, so it wasn’t a loss. πŸ™‚

Willa informed me later that Kathy got caught up with a group of her former Music Teachers, and ended up coming out much later than she usually does. Great for her, and slightly bad luck for us. We’ll catch her next time!

I noticed as we were leaving that people were surrounding Bill and asking for autographs. He had admitted to me during our chat that he rarely comes out. He should, as Willa told me today that people continued to surround him long after we left. We’re not alone in understanding that this man has more talent in his 10 fingers than most people have in their entire bodies! πŸ™‚

Kathy is playing at the Barns again tonight. Ironically, we’re headed (in a few minutes) back to Joe’s Pub, to see Tim O’Brien. Tim writes amazing songs, a number of them have become big hits for Kathy. So, we’ll continue to think about Kathy, Bill, Eamonn and David as we enjoy Tim tonight! πŸ™‚

We got home (to the house) at 3am. We slept for three hours and 40 minutes, and got up and drove to the city. Now we’re off.

Today, we exchanged a ton of emails with Willa. She’s a hoot, and writes fantastically, and we are so glad to have made a new life-long friend. Have I mentioned how much I love the Internet? If not, let me say I love the Internet! πŸ™‚

Don’t forget, we have a Girlyman Live CD Contest going on. One entry so far, and it’s a very good one! πŸ™‚

Girlyman at Wolftrap

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Last night finally came, thankfully! We’ve been waiting (not so patiently!) since November 4th, 2007 to see Girlyman live again. That’s 143 days, in a row (if you can believe that). Somehow, we survived, but I’m not sure how!

Continuing with the new tradition, I’ll cover the concert first, then circle back and share lots more stuff from the day. That will allow people who only care about their Girlyman Fix to bail out after this part.

This was our first time at the Barns at Wolftrap. It won’t be our last. Not just because the place is simply fantastic, but we just so happen to have tickets for this coming Tuesday night (April 1st, 2008) to see Kathy Mattea (and of course, accompanying her, the amazing Bill Cooley!).

We had four seats in the fifth row, left center stage. Excellent! Opening for Girlyman was a group called We’re About 9. I have quite a bit to say about them, but I’ll save it for the section immediately following Girlyman, before the rest of my shtick, since this post is really about Girlyman.

Girlyman came on stage at exactly 9pm. It’s hard to describe the joy and excitement that was evident in the entire crowd. There might have been a reasonable number of newbies in the audience, but even the vast majority of those have either heard the band before (CD, streaming, etc.) or were there with friends who are die-hard groupies.

In fact, the two people we brought were seeing Girlyman for the first time live, but each have separate copies of Joyful Sign (gifts from us) even though they are a married couple. πŸ˜‰

The band feels the love immediately, and reflects it back. These are not jaded people who take the love for granted, even though they absolutely should expect it at this point! It’s heartwarming.

They open the show with the same song that they opened the Highline Ballroom show with (that was our last time, on November 4th, 2007), On The Air (the first cut on the Little Star CD). Unfortunately, for the first time ever (OK, we’ve only seen them live twice before) πŸ˜‰ they actually take liberty with the song and do it somewhat differently than the CD version.

It was OK, but not as good. Sorry folks, I have to call it like I see it. Many might disagree (perhaps everyone except for me), but while very nice, it wasn’t as good. I was immediately nervous. If this was going to be a night of complete experimentation, I would probably be somewhat disappointed. Not the least of which is that one minute before they came on, I leaned over to my friend and said “Wait until they come out, it’s complete magic!”.

I’ve written about this before, in a different (but somewhat analogous) situation (about the lead performers in Wicked the Musical). I can understand how an artist can be bored doing the same thing every night for years on end. They want to grow, stretch, etc. In the case of Girlyman, for me (I realize this obviously isn’t true for them), it shouldn’t apply. Here’s why:

  • They actually don’t tour as much as other road bands (e.g., The Wailin’ Jennys)
  • They have more material than a single show, so they can mix it up
  • They have quite a lot of new material, so they are experimenting!
  • While they’ve been around a while (7+ years?), it’s hardly an eternity…

So, I say that their fans (a constantly expanding group, especially if I have anything to do about it!), are hardly sick of the current versions.

Whew. Onward. The fear passed quickly, as they only fooled around with one other song, more about that later.

While everything was beautiful, even from the beginning, to my ear, it took a while for their voices to warm up, get stronger, and gel together as wonderfully as we’ve come to expect. That’s not so much of a complaint as a surprising observation. They dazzled last year from the first note at both Joe’s Pub and the Highline, and the acoustics at the Barns were good.

Once they got rolling (not too long into the set), they were spectacular (you better not be surprised!). πŸ™‚

They always have an amazing stage presence, rapport with the crowd, and banter (between them, and separately aimed toward the audience). Last night took it to new heights. Seriously, they were so on, I’m not sure people would have stoned them if they didn’t play a single song! OK, perhaps a slight exaggeration, but not as much as you might think.

When they talk to the crowd, you feel like you’re at a family reunion, sharing laughs and catching up with relatives, people who you deeply care about, and want to hear about, even though you have mostly separate lives the rest of the year!

They had a phenomenal mini-set of fun stuff. Sorry, but I don’t like to ruin these kinds of surprises for those that have tickets to see them on this tour. What’s really cool is that while the songs are fun, they still share all of the musical qualities that we’ve all come to expect from Girlyman, great musicianship, great voices, and impeccable harmonies. If you get that, and get to laugh out loud at the same time, who can complain? πŸ™‚

All three of them were on top of their game yesterday. Ty actually spent a bit more time on the guitar (she’s excellent!) than she has before. The new material is a real hit. They have a new Live CD coming out this week. Unfortunately, it wasn’t ready last night. Thankfully, it will be available when we see them again this coming Sunday, in NYC. Yippee!

Time to pick one last bone with the band. Their politics are reasonably obvious. No problem, we all have our own politics (of some sort or another), whether we make it obvious or not. In the case of Girlyman, its often laudable. For example, I learned more about biodiesel (the good and the bad!) from Nate and Ty’s separate blog posts than I had previously known. I admire their effort and caring to do the right thing!

That said, I’ve written before that I don’t pay for musical entertainment with the expectation to be lectured to on politics (by either side!). Having seen Girlyman twice before, I had no reason to expect that to happen (as it hadn’t happened at Joe’s or Highline). It didn’t really happen last night either (meaning, no lecture, no speech, etc.).

But, during the intro to Through To Sunrise (Lois’ favorite song of theirs!), Ty couldn’t resist saying that she partially wrote the song looking forward to the end of the Bush Presidency. The crowd ate it up, giving her a rousing ovation. That’s all she said, hardly a lecture. Also, hardly necessary.

I’m not writing this in support of Bush, or the Presidency in general. I’m writing this because it’s odd, that a group that writes so deeply and passionately about love and other subjects, should find the need to take open slaps at anyone, including someone who they obviously disagree with politically.

I’d actually go further. I found it to be pandering (to the audience!). It’s a guaranteed laugh and clap getter, in most venues. To me, it’s a cheap laugh, especially given that one way or another, he’s out in less than a year. It’s no longer wishful thinking on the part of his detractors.

Sorry to drone on, but I need to put a fine point on it. Earlier in the show, in a more light-hearted romp on the current crop of candidates, Ty made it clear that she believes in Obama (at least it was clear to me). Until Obama got dragged into the mud relatively recently, his rhetoric lectured us on being united, not divided. No one with a public megaphone needs to take cheap shots at the opposition (though they all do…).

Sorry. It’s off my chest now. Do I love Girlyman (or Ty) any less? Not a single drop. It wasn’t egregious, didn’t show me a dark side I was previously unaware of. It was just unnecessary.

The other disappointing thing about Through To Sunrise is that it was the only other song last night that they heavily experimented with. It too was fine, but not even close to the standard that Lois and I are nuts about. Oh well.

Everything else was perfect! πŸ˜‰ Including a one and a half song encore (with a fun surprise). Girlyman was on stage for 105 minutes. Very nice!

We loved it, in every way, so the amount of words dedicated to the negative stuff shouldn’t be used to judge the overall effect of the evening. Our friends loved it as well!

We really wanted to hang around and finally say hello to the group, but our friends had a very early flight out of Dulles and we wanted to drop them off at their airport hotel as quickly as possible. Hopefully, we’ll rectify this on Sunday at Joe’s Pub.

OK, that’s the end of the Girlyman section, and you can safely stop reading if that’s the only reason you landed here. Next is We’re about 9.

Whenever I buy tickets to see a headliner that I’m in love with, I get a twinge when I see an opening act announced that I’ve never heard of. There are two reasons:

  1. The group might stink (which can affect the crowd too, possibly spilling into the headliner’s vibe)
  2. The headliner might simply play a short set (perhaps much shorter!) especially when the venue has hard time deadlines

When I saw that We’re About 9 was opening for Girlyman, I went to their music page and listened to the songs available there. I liked them instantly, so #1 could be scratched off the list. Just as Girlyman was complementary when opening for the Indigo Girls, We’re About 9 was going to be complementary to Girlyman.

I’ve already reported that Girlyman was on stage for 105 minutes, so #2 turned out to be nothing to worry about this time either.

From their website, We’re About 9 has three members. When we were reading the program waiting for the show to start, we noticed that the full page ad showing the group, only had two people in the picture. The Bio on the next page talked about all three. We remarked that it seemed strange. They never mentioned the third person the entire night, even though only two of them performed last night (Brian Gundersdorf and Katie Graybeal).

It’s hard to describe them succinctly (of course, it’s hard for me to do anything succinctly). πŸ˜‰

They are old-style folk meisters, with very nice harmonies, and excellent musicianship. Brian is very good on the guitar, and Katie is excellent on the bass (and on the one song that she played the guitar). They both have good voices.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Bob Dylan, especially in my youth. Brian reminds me of him in some ways. There is a depth to most of their lyrics that can be insightful and instructive. His voice isn’t gravelly like Dylan, but it has an earthy quality, passion, and driving nature that is still reminiscent of Dylan.

On the other hand, some of their songs are incredibly playful (not that this wasn’t the case for Dylan as well!). But, even the playful songs are rich and complicated in their lyrics. At their heart, they are story tellers, sometimes with a deep message, sometimes a playful one, but almost always with a story.

Many of their lyrics are also sophisticated. By that, I meant that you have to listen very closely to get the meaning, as well as sometimes just to understand the actual words. Some of their songs cram so many words into a stanza of music, that you wonder not only how they can remember all the words, but how they can sing them in synchronized harmony without missing a note, breath or word. It’s extremely impressive!

I could go on, but I’ll end by simply saying that they were a hit with the four of us, and Lois went and bought two of their CDs during the intermission (signed, of course). πŸ™‚ They have more CDs, and after I listened to both today (Engine and Paperdust::Stardust), I am sure I will be buying more of their music (I think they have six CDs out, but I’m not sure).

They are not playing with Girlyman this Sunday at Joe’s, but they are playing in a number of other future dates with them. There was a cool surprise during the We’re About 9 set, but I won’t ruin it, in case they repeat it in future shows.

They were on for 38 minutes. As much as I enjoyed it, it made me a little worried that Girlyman wouldn’t be on for as long as I would want them to be, but it all worked out (as reported above).

OK, if you came just for the music, leave now. The rest is about everything yesterday leading up to the concert. πŸ™‚

We bought last night’s tickets a long time ago. We bought four tickets, in the hopes of bringing our friends from Richmond, but knowing that if they couldn’t make it, we’d have no trouble enticing other people to discover the wonders of Girlyman.

Our Richmond friends committed right away, so we were set. The original plan was that they would drive to Fredericksburg (where we often work) and we’d drive up together to Vienna, VA. A week ago, those plans changed. They needed to fly out early this morning from Dulles to CA. They got to Fredericksburg via car service, and we drove them to the show, and as reported above, dropped them afterwards at an airport hotel.

In between, we had dinner in Vienna. We would have been happy to have sandwiches at the bar at the Barns. They don’t open their doors until an hour before show time (7pm last night), but we were in the neighborhood by 6pm. So, I asked the GPS to highlight nearby restaurants. It generated a large list, but we decided to go simple, and headed for a local TGI Friday’s.

When we arrived, we didn’t see it. We asked a group of people relaxing outside in the gorgeous 75 degree weather where it was. They laughed and said it was long gone. Oh well. Right there was another choice that the GPS had shown, Hunan Lion. We went in there instead.

Fantastic food, fantastic value (prices), fantastic atmosphere, great service, zero complaints! The only thing that made me feel bad (and always does) is that the place was relatively empty. The staff still went out of their way to enhance everyone’s experience by spreading out the guests widely in what is a very large restaurant. We appreciated the comfort and privacy, but it made the place feel even emptier than it really was.

Hunan Lion in Vienna, VA is highly recommended.

When we got to the Barns, at 7:05pm, we had coffee and cookies in the bar. Yummy, and bodes well for the sandwiches, which Lois and I will likely do for dinner this coming Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, someone I worked with for many years at UBS stopped by the office to visit. When he was at UBS, he worked in our London office (he relocated from VA just for the job). His family fell in love with the UK, and when the stint at UBS ended, they moved back to VA for a few years, but really missed the UK. Roughly five years ago, they moved back, and he runs his own software company there.

I hadn’t seen him since he moved, and we had a very leisurely lunch together, and had a great time catching up. Thanks for making the drive down Chris, it was great to see you! πŸ™‚

Tomorrow, we head back to NYC. We’ll be seeing Girlyman again on Sunday night at Joe’s Pub. We head back down on Monday, and have Kathy Mattea back at the Barns on Tuesday. On Wednesday, we’re back at Joe’s Pub to see Tim O’Brien, so we have an insane travel schedule ahead of us, but all for good and fun reasons, so we promise not to complain. πŸ™‚

Bill Cooley Now More Accessible

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I am very happy to announce that Bill Cooley now has a MySpace page. I have raved about Bill ever since seeing him live with Kathy Mattea at Joe’s Pub.

The only problem was that spreading the word about how great this guy is was difficult, because his CDs weren’t as easy to purchase (or listen to online) as some of the other people that I’ve been writing about lately.

Some of that just changed, and hopefully more will as Bill gets closer to delivering his next CD sometime this year.

On the MySpace page (linked above), you can hear four tracks from his existing CDs. They are all beautiful. As opposed to the Candyrat guys (who are all awesome as well), Bill has a much wider range of styles, including playing with other instruments accompanying him rather than just pure guitar (which I also love, but variety is nice too) πŸ˜‰ and Bill is a master of all the styles he plays!

On a personal note, I was really happy to see the MySpace page, because I saw his upcoming concert schedule. On April 1st and 2nd, he’s playing with Kathy Mattea (the Coal tour) at the Barns at Wolftrap.

We’ve never been there before, but people say it’s one of the best places to see a concert. We have tickets to see Girlyman there on March 26th already (we’re experiencing withdrawal as we haven’t seen Girlyman live since November 4th). Given that we’ll already be in VA that week, I just snagged tickets to the April 1st show for Lois and me. Yippee, a chance to see Kathy and Bill live again!