It’s that time of year when our Wednesday, 7 pm shows are likely to overlap with that most sacred of rituals, Major League Baseball playoff games. And yes during this week’s show, I was monitoring the Cubs versus Pirates one-game wildcard showdown, determining who survived to play the St. Louis Cardinals and have a shot at the World Series. As the son of a Chicago-raised Cubs fan and a lover of underdogs, this was too tense to ignore. But I can walk and chew gum at the same time. It was easy to be awestruck by Jake Arietta’s pitching performance while simultaneously appreciating in full the varied sounds and personalities coming across our stage. Ours was an evening of four innings, each with its own score.
The bluegrass around the Front Range in Colorado has a free and windy feeling that kindly compliments the more formal and buttoned up bluegrass of the Southeast. And Trout Steak Revival brought just that vibe to start the show. I was surprised to learn in the interview that aside from fiddler Bevin Foley, the guys had picked up their instruments relatively recently, for they were very good pickers who kept the music rolling forward. And there were multiple lead vocalists for variety. Bevin sang a swinging, gospel inflected “Go On” that was about the sweetest “get out of here I’m over you” song I can recall. Banjo man Travis McNamara conspired with the fiddle for a moody intro before singing the light-and-dark final number, which I’m pretty sure was the title track to the album Brighter Every Day.
The music of The Lowest Pair creeps into your bones subtly but surely. Kendl Winter sang in a birdlike voice with a warble and coo. Palmer Lee blended well with her, often in a woven vocal fugue, and the same went for their intricate banjo lines, which spun around each other as on a loom. Opener “Minnesota Mend Me” was lonesome and melancholy. They offered a twist on “Oh Suzanna” with new, original verses. “Rosie” had a mountain purity. And I appreciated their extended instrumental passages with two banjos playing specific, clean lines against each other, like a two-person version of what Dave Rawlings does with Gillian Welch.
It was a family affair when the AJ Ghent band took the stage. AJ’s background singers flanking the artist and looking sensational in black dresses, were his sister and wife. Father Aubrey was in the wings, waiting. The opening tune started mellow and grew to a big vocals-meets-steel-guitar climax. The drumming from Javares Dunn was sensational throughout but especially when things needed to get slippery and syncopated. Dad came on halfway through the program to offer biting single line solos and highlights on the gospel rocking “99 And A Half Won’t Do.” Father and son trading breaks with their very different styles was grand, and the band earned a standing ovation for their sweaty efforts.
You never met such good old boys as the Kentucky Headhunters. They are utterly what they appear to be and even 40+ years into their musical journey, they rock like teenagers back in their rustic old practice house. They came out tipping their hat to their past and to the Bluegrass State with their punchy cover of Bill Monroe’s “Walk Softly On This Heart of Mine.” “Stumblin’” was nice grit and grind rock and roll, coming at just the time that the Cubs turned a crucial double play with the bases loaded to stifle the biggest threat to their 4-0 lead so far. The Heads evoked the grease of good barbecue with “Shufflin’ Back To Memphis” and Richard Young sang commanding raspy blues on “Have You Ever Loved A Woman.” Finally the band pulled out its upbeat, indelible hit “Dumas Walker” to close.
“Don’t Let Me Down” sang the gang for the Nashville Jam, and I’m happy to say that at least for now, the Cubs did not. (Fortunately MCR artists are much more consistent.) I saved the last two innings for viewing at home, to prolong the suspense. Arrieta pitched a complete game shutout. So it was an evening when everybody brought their A game.