People keep talking about music piracy like it’s a BAD thing. But I swear, this band of brigands seized the stage at the barn about 9 pm Wednesday night, and it turned out to be a hearty, rollicking time. Instead of knives in their teeth, they brought a tin whistle, a fiddle and some guit-arrrrs. (Forgive me, but I needed that one.) And they sang about drinking, wenches and drowning and all that good stuff. Up to that point, the evening had been serene and intelligent, as a string of singer-songwriters from Australia took the stage in turn. The vibe was warm. The audience attentive. Then Tom Mason’s Blue Buccaneers crashed in and kicked over all the furniture.
I think some folks wondered about the night’s unorthodox formula, but it ended up being kind of subversive and it was certainly original. And there was even continuity between the Aussies and the Buccaneers. But I’ll explain that later.
As soon as Jim Lauderdale was done with his opening song, a fellow in a green polka dot shirt, green velvety sport coat, fedora and rock singer shag took the stage. His name was one that just cries out to be pronounced in Australian: Jordie Lane. And he needs to be heard. His voice surges with heart and emotion, and he’s a very deft fingerstyle guitarist who decorates his sturdy melodies with little flourishes and a rock steady rhythm. He set a magnificent tone with the romantic “I Could Die Looking At You.” Then he invited up his now regular co-singer, Clare Reynolds, who made a visual statement of her own wearing white with a fuzzy white Dr. Zhivago hat. She explained it’s been winter in Australia, so it all made sense. What really worked was her voice. Clare and Jordie singing together could go around the world many more times. He explained that he plays Gram Parsons in a play in Australia, and apparently she plays Emmylou, and based on their duo singing this week that would be a convincing act. I loved the close harmonies and the chemistry.
Songwriter Chris Altmann offered up a starker and simpler take on country/folk. He opened with a ramblin’ man song called “The Other Side of the Mountain” and then played some tasty flatpicking behind “Your Good Side.” Tom Mason, the night’s pirate in chief, donned country music clothes to play dobro with Chris on “Love Like This,” and then “Nothing But Nice Things” rounded out the set with a Dylanish blues.
The night’s charmer in chief proved to be Caitlin Harnett. Projecting youth and innocence she was as engaging in between songs as in song, volunteering from stage that besides offering the standard merch she was “giving out free hugs.” The music was silvery light and fresh. “The Raven” had a Celtic touch and a floaty descending melody, and “Darling It’s You” benefitted from harmonic tensions deep down in the guitar part. I’m not sure if I was influenced by the fact that Kim Richey was hanging out back stage, but at times I thought Caitlin reminded me of Kim.
Kim Richey was there to sing a duet with our final Aussie songwriter of the night, the quite famous and very accomplished Felicity Urquhart (rhymes with circuit, she said). In a very complete and rangy voice, she sang darkly of enduring a flood and defiantly of loving the motorcycle life on “Two Wheels.” Of all the artists we saw, she rode the country/Americana line most proudly and successfully. Her best stuff sounded like hits and they may well be over there. Kim joined her for “All Good Fun” and when those voices rose together it was chill-bump time.
At last, the pirates came ashore. It felt good to hear a rhythm section at the end of a calming night, with the classic Nashville combo of Rick Schell (Pinmonkey, Poco) and bassist Lorne Rall. Rounding out the band was fiddler Peter Hyrka (Gypsy Hombres) and out of Australia, the great and hilarious Dobe Newton, a member of that country’s great folk rock band The Bushwhackers. So there’s your Aussie connection. His tin whistle really mated up well with Peter’s fiddle, and up front, the most pirate-y pirate of all, Tom Mason, took command. His original songs were bold and fun and easy to sing along with. The whole gang, I must stress, was dressed for the part, and I think I’d have to give Hyrka the prize for top runner up to Mason’s over-the-top outfit. It was an off-beat way to close out a wonderful season, but nothing wrong with that.
And what a season it’s been. Summer gave us mostly clear skies and cooler than expected evenings. The crowds came in large numbers, selling out most of our shows at the barn. Kathy Mattea brought her vocal mastery and her songs of West Virginia to our stage. We enjoyed a Sam Bush super-set. Kim Richey, Bill Lloyd and Laura Cantrell played on the same night. The Mosier Brothers brought out Col. Bruce Hampton and introduced us to the amazing Aubrey Ghent Sr. and Jr. The Isaacs peeled the paint off the walls singing “How Great Thou Art.” Guitar Night was another triumph with Guthrie, Kenny and Pat, not to mention the vocal turns by Charles “Wig” Walker. I couldn’t possibly list all the great memories. Once again we reflect with deep appreciation for the artists who played for us and the folks who’ve tuned in worldwide to enjoy the music and take part in our community. See you in a couple of weeks.