Setting aside the day I got married and the day we met our adopted daughter, has there been a more ecstatically wonderful night of my life than November 2, 2016? I don’t think so. My 83-year-old Chicago native Dad got to see his beloved Cubbies shake off the curses and the baggage of history and win the World Series. I flashed back to sunny September days in the Wrigley Field bleachers singing along with Harry “Holy Cow!” Caray and nights at the Cubby Bear Lounge seeing great music. The team that taught me the virtues of rooting for underdogs and believing in decency and honor over victory – the team that drew me close to the great city of Chicago – is finally on top, after a thrilling three-game comeback and a cathartic ten-inning triumph.
Now friends, you may think that your Roots correspondent was wishing that Game 7 of this epic World Series hadn’t fallen on a show day. But I’m not so sure. A charming and exciting lineup made this historic night even more beautiful and memorable. It was a fusion of two of my favorite things – music and baseball – and as I followed the action on my phone, our talented artists calmed my trembling nerves.
Gaelynn Lea proved to be both an intense artist and a person of incredible fortitude. In our interview, she came off as somebody who was simply determined to make music whatever it took, as she recounted figuring out how to adapt to the violin 22 years ago. From her wheelchair with her violin arranged like an off axis cello and her right hand bowing like a bass player, she did something incredibly rare and challenging – transfixing an audience as a solo fiddler/singer. She set musical patterns in motion with a looping pedal and deft timing. She sang clean, interesting and ancient-sounding melodies. “Boys of Bluehill” was an instrumental that sounded like a baroque dance mixed with modern minimalism. Her love song “Someday We’ll Linger In The Sun” is tinged with darkness but is also incredibly hummable. Her closing take on the Irish standard “The Parting Glass” was a bold reinterpretation.
With an early Cubs lead, it was easy to enjoy the breezy and beautiful country music of The Honeycutters. While other bands in the neo-traditional style can drag and drone a bit, the Asheville sextet generally keeps its tempos bright and its melodies clean and sweeping, as with opener “On The Ropes.” Tal Taylor’s electric mandolin put sparkled on “Blue Besides,” while Matt Smith’s pedal steel was textured magic on “The Only Eyes.” Of course Amanda Platt’s voice was luxurious and plain-spoken throughout, like a country singer should be. I promise you guys, we’ll do that interview next time.
Vandaveer is one delightful and fascinating band fronted by two soulfully connected singers and rounded out by three talented and understated musicians. Neither pop nor folk nor country they gleefully partake of any tradition or tone that suits Mark Charles Heidinger’s brainy but tuneful songs. I loved the easy sway and complex shadings of “Love Is Melancholy.” The light touch of “However Many Takes It Takes” was a ringer for a lost Paul Simon track, while the set closer really brought the power of Mark’s harmony partner Rose Guerin to the forefront. I was put in mind of Buddy and Julie Miller here and there, not their honky tonk twang but their emotional link and their sense of melody. Have a listen to Vandaveer’s last two recordings for deep song-based pleasure.
Not even the growing tension of Game 7 could distract a person from the soulful and colorful voice of Kelli Johnson and the transparent acoustic honesty of her duo project with Barry Waldrep. They’re a match for sure. They opened with “Past The Point of Rescue,” a song I’ve long adored which is associated with Hal Ketchum but was written by the little-known but awesome Irish artist Mick Hanly. “Matches” was a ballad that let Johnson stretch and shape her vocals, while “Talking To Jesus” had, not surprisingly, a southern gospel fire. Quite cool was closer “Big Love” which set her long vocal lines against Waldrep’s speedy, articulated fingerstyle acoustic guitar rolls.
The show ended with a rollicking take on Bob Dylan’s “Down In The Easy Chair.” The World Series ended with an emotional roller coaster that’s being called one of the greatest baseball games ever played. And somehow, miraculously, the Cubs rallied from a crisis and won by one run in the bottom of the 10th inning. I’ll never forget the moment or the emotion, and truly I’ll never forget the show that was part of this huge and cathartic night.