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Sold Out, In The Right Way 8.9.17

One geeky little game I play is to look for words that mean something good when they’re in one form and something bad in another, like the noun defeat means you lost, but the verb to defeat means you won. And if you “sell out” it means you might have licensed your badass indie rock song to Pampers for a commercial, but “a sell out” is a full house, the best you can hope for in show biz. And this week, we did it! We sold out without selling out. About 700 people were on hand in Liberty Hall to feel the groove of Seth Walker, the smart piano pop of Ele Ivory, the nutbag fusion of bluegrass and Top 40 that is The Cleverlys and finally, the fingers-a-flying guitar virtuosity of Tommy Emmanuel.

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There’s smooth. And then there’s butter. And then there’s Seth Walker butter smooth. One of my most sought after qualities in music is ease, and Walker has it. The opening song “Home Again” was bouncier than most of his tunes, but before long we were slipping along in 6/8 time in the ballad “Grab Hold of Me” and swinging with funky aplomb on “High Time.” The New Orleans brass band street beat of “Way Past Midnight,” delivered by the outstanding Jano Ricks, was the perfect set capper. A high time was had by all.

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How appropriate that Ele Ivory spins her smart and earthy pop from a piano. She tickled her ivories with a three piece rhythm section and stirred up some head bobbing tunes with darting, daring melodies. At times I heard shades of the great Kate Bush in there. I smiled a lot during the Chinese themed “Great Wall” because my Chinese daughter happened to be on hand. “Today I Found Out” was passionate and angry. The inspired set closer was a woozy ballad take on the Credence classic “Have You Ever Seen The Rain.”

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And now, as Monty Python used to say, for something completely different. I didn’t know that the world needed a string band that played bluegrass versions of Top 40 tunes, but now that the Cleverlys do it, I wouldn’t want to live in a world without them. They opened with Beck’s “Loser” done in cut time, with impressive beat boxing by bass player Ricky Lloyd. They did “Say My Name” (Destiny’s Child) and somehow made “No Diggity” morph into “High On A Mountain Top.” And that was great, but the monologues by Digger Cleverly in between songs put the set over the top.

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Words can’t convey the rush and wonder of a Tommy Emmanuel set. He uses a combo of intricate finger rolls, flatpicking, hand drumming and power strumming to make a band’s worth of sound with a box strung up with six strings. I love him for preserving and expanding on the repertoire of Doc Watson and Merle Travis, which he displayed through his tricky rendition of “Deep River Blues” and “Cannonball Rag.” “Cowboy’s Dream” was lyrical and dancing. And he wove “Windy and Warm,” the first fingerstyle tune I ever wanted to learn, into Classical Gas.”

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