Our host Jim Lauderdale is, of course, one of the most stylish men in country music, and my favorites of his custom western suits are the ones that prominently feature yin-yang designs. You know what I mean – the ancient Asian symbol that reminds us that the universe tends toward a balance of all opposing forces. You can’t have light without the dark, male without the female, etc. And while Jim didn’t wear a yin-yang suit last night, the show reminded me of that venerable symbol. It was a harmony of contrasts.
Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver launched our night in a bluegrass blur, tearing into “Gone At Last” at a tempo so fast it would have been challenging just to play rhythm downstrokes. They even had a fellow playing brushed drums, which surprised me a bit since Doyle is decidedly old school, but it sure kept the pulse rolling. They pulled the throttle way back to sing the old familiar “Precious Memories” at a luxuriously slow and heartfelt tempo, while (I THINK) Mike Rogers sang a silky, commanding lead. Then their closer “Blue Train” went even faster than the first tune. Whoosh!
The parade of fine artists we’ve enjoyed from Asheville, NC continued last night with a visit by Woody Pines, an amiable young guy with an ear for the old ragtime blues. His opener “Chew Tobacco Rag” sounded through and through like my home state of North Carolina, with its forward boogie bounce and its longing sentiment for America’s legal narcotic weed. Woody brought a smart little combo to back him up, including solo artist Sam Quinn sitting in on drums and Gill Landry of Old Crow Medicine Show adding a bottleneck steel guitar. Woody made me especially happy by doing “Satisfied,” one of my favorite Mississippi John Hurt tunes. I WAS satisfied. How’d he know?
Last night’s other major discovery for me was Ann Arbor folk/funk/world band The Ragbirds. This five piece is heavy on groove (I love groove), with a drummer AND a percussionist. The beat-meister behind the conga drums was Randall Zindle, husband of front woman and fiddler Erin Zindle. She was a bundle of personality and she led the group through a great set of gypsy-influenced tunes that whirled and dervished with increasing intensity until the fiery climax of an instrumental they aptly call “Romanian Train Song.” Look for them at some jam bandy dance trance tent near you this spring and summer. They’ll turn you ‘round.
So if Doyle Lawson was the Yin (and maybe the whole first three sets were Yin), then Jason D. Williams brought the Yang, with wild-man fervor and a virtuoso attack on the rock and roll piano. The barn became a honky tonk and a church at the same time. He beamed a thousand watt smile. He played behind his back. He played lying down on the top of the piano, and did a tumbling routine off onto the floor. My favorite bit I think was when he snuck behind his (hard-working) drummer, grabbed a pair of sticks and joined in a drum solo while whacking on the body and strings of his electrified piano. This actually sounded much better than you might imagine. And he pulled the audience in with funny, sometimes strange and rambling banter. No wonder this guy’s reputation precedes him; he’s full-on Dixie dynamite.
Perhaps in honor of Jason D’s father, who was actually named Hank Williams, Lauderdale and the gang decided to sing “My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It” as the Loveless Jam. Our crazy mixture of acts meant we had two fiddles, a piano, a trombone and just a whole lot of musicians on stage at once. And with Jason D’s drummer there in back, the song took on a Jerry Lee Lewis pulse. It was great, but it did make me worry a bit out the prospects of getting holes in my buckets, so I pre-empted the situation by having another Blackstone beer.