Sadly, we couldn’t play past midnight but there was a massive orange moon floating in the sky last night. And in any event, hearing Peter Rowan sing those stirring words “If you ever feel lonesome, when you’re down in San Antone…” in our Loveless Barn evoked a feeling of mellow grandeur and a sense of accomplishment. “Midnight Moonlight,” which Rowan led in the show-closing Loveless Jam, will forever be associated with Old And In The Way, his band with Jerry Garcia. And I’ve heard (and played) so many versions of that song around campfires with kindred souls that it’s become kind of an anthem for a certain approach to music. And Rowan, a true giant of acoustic American music, sang that anthem for us. If nothing had happened to that point, it would have been a great show.
But a lot happened to that point. It was fun from the moment Red Molly took the stage. They’re a trio of lasses from New York with sensational voices who cast a wide net for songs. They opened with Darrell Scott’s “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” and even though that song gets widely rendered, they definitely made something fresh of it with their stacked and locked harmonies. They brought choral color to the old English ballad “Foreign Lander” and offered couple of their own tunes. Abbie Gardner’s “Jezebel” was brisk and engaging, as was her dobro playing, which, by the way, is a freakin’ hard instrument. They were, by the way, a joy to get to know as well.
Our Vietti artists Harpeth Rising (good name for an ‘emerging’ act) is one unusual group with a vision. Their classical training and sensibility showed in the tight interplay of fiddle and cello. They also had an old-time banjo player and a percussionist who gave the music a Middle Eastern groove. Overall, it was exotic and dramatic and some crazy combo of ancient and ultra-modern. I liked the pulsing, droning quality of some of their stuff, and one gets the sense that they’re evolving and will sound even more refined and complete the next time we hear them.
I was so glad we had David Olney out for the show, because as much as I respect his songwriting, I can be dissuaded from going out to see him by my faulty memories that his shows are ultra-serious and dark affairs. Last night, however, he reminded me that he’s a vintage rock and roller at heart, with a great sense of humor. First, he brought a rocking little band with Sergio Webb on twangy guitar. And he played the ultra-serious but remarkable “Jerusalem Tomorrow,” one of his most famously covered songs. And he leavened that up with the high stepping country of “Covington Girl” and the serene poetry of “Red Tailed Hawk.” These are both from his brand new album Dutchman’s Curve, which by all accounts continues Olney’s streak as one of America’s greatest songwriters.
That led to Bearfoot, the exciting young bluegrass-oriented band that started in Alaska and that has torn up the U.S. festival scene. The twin fiddles of Angela Oudean and Odessa Jorgenson pulse with perfect urgency, and then their voices blend with sweet serenity. They offered two of my favorites: “Time Is No Medicine” with its very original form and fiddle riff, and “In The Kitchen” their groovy near-a cappella number that sounds like it came from the 1920s, punched up real good here by new member Sam Grisman’s stellar bass playing. Then they got in their van and headed to Merlefest.
Rowan closed the night with his new four-piece bluegrass band, bringing the music back to its old school basics. Rowan was deeply influenced by Monroe as a singer (in my opinion anyway) and he’s just a master of that loose, indescribable blue half-yodel that makes the lyrics so penetrating. Though as he said in our interview, he’s actually kind of the harmony singer in this band, with Keith Little taking most of the leads. The band is also noteworthy for having veteran Jody Stecher playing mandolin, with a propulsive attack, also worthy of the Father of Bluegrass. They did the much beloved “In The Pines,” the Stanley Brothers’ “Let Me Walk Lord” and a few new songs from the album that they’re currently working on.
So by that point, “Midnight Moonlight” became just the icing on the cake. But as always, the icing was the best part.