All anyone really wants in life is to feel valued – to be there and make a difference when called on in a pinch. So when Texas band Greyhounds was about to start its second song and guitarist Andrew Trube realized he’d forgotten to bring a beer bottle to the stage to serve as a roadhouse guitar slide, he called out for one. He directed his appeal to the universe and the audience with hope in his heart. And sure, his bandmate Anthony had a nearly full beer, but really how would that have worked? Suddenly I found myself in the right place at the right time ladies and gentlemen. I had a freshly emptied Blackstone Hopjack IPA bottle in front of me (better than a frontal lobotomy) and I offered it up to the stage and to Andrew, who thanked me graciously and then ripped into the song “Change of Pace” playing the Blackstone bottle overhand and creating a product placement opportunity so brazen and effective that we’ll probably have to cut that song out of our public television show.
An extraordinary night of music with a travelin’ kind of vibe began with a foreign visitor who traffics in global sounds. Piers Faccini has one of the most imaginative musical minds I know in his ability to layer (and he was explicit about this in our interview) British folk tradition, Delta and Hill Country Mississippi blues and North African sounds. This is no small feat, but with just a drummer (the extraordinarily supple Simone Prattico), a glowing, reverby guitar and his voice, Faccini cast a spell. And he sang songs with real pathos and relevance. Opener “Drone” was about that blithely overlooked subject of remote warfare. “Bring Down The Wall” with its call and response singing and deeply interlaced polyrhythms, was a prayer for open borders and free mixing of cultures. And it was full of musical ideas as well. In the midst of “Cloak of Blue,” Piers stood on the drum riser letting Prattico strike his strings with his bundle sticks during a joint drum/guitar solo that was like nothing else we’ve seen on the stage.
The Mulligan Brothers presented the most straightforwardly Americana/roots set of the night with a quartet featuring acoustic guitar, fiddle, electric bass and drums. Ross Newell was more or less the front man offering a nice sandy voice and eminently melodic songs. “Louise” had a friendly country bounce but a plaintive call of unrequited love. “Calamine” was “the darkest song of the evening,” according to Newell. And it was a murder tale, but one with a lot of musical and lyrical beauty. The closer “Lay Here” was a bright and delicious folk pop number that puts its hooks right into you. Kudos for killer harmony vocals from drummer Greg Deluca and always smiling and dancing fiddler player Melody Duncan.
In truth, the guys in Greyhounds didn’t really need my help to put on a spectacular set of shoe sliding soul anthems. Trube kicked things off with the wiry twang of his vintage guitar before Ferrell took the lead voice on “A War Is On For Your Mind,” the hot political take from their current album. Ineffable chemistry and a taste for what’s cool is what makes this band tick. Ferrell looks effortless as he does the near impossible, playing bass line on a keyboard with his left hand, leads with his right on either a Fender Rhodes piano or a Yamaha organ – and signing. No surprise that this all sounded amazing on “Amazing,” the one song that this set had in common with their visit of two years ago. During “You’re Gone” the much anticipated Spaceman appeared on stage, this time in the gap in the barn set in front of the MCR sign. It was a surreal surprise.
It’s never a surprise when the Travelin’ McCourys put on a great set, but my god, I was pinned to the wall by the power of the band this time both musically and vocally. Three of the pickers have really taken up the challenge of creating a vocal presence that supports but expands on Ronnie McCoury’s familiar tenor. Jason Carter sang lead on opener “Midnight Flyer,” a banjo-driven bluegrass locomotive, only to have Ronnie and Alan Bartram join in on a chill bump harmony finale. Alan sang with baritone authority on a spooky minor-key work song called “The Shaker.” The T McCs always bring brilliant instrumentals and this time it was “Ole Bud,” which started with guitar whiz Cody Kilby and grew into a brushfire. The closer was a lush and even emotional take on the Grateful Dead’s “Loser” with guest guitar from Ronnie’s son Evan.
Hosting Peter Cooper kept the bluegrass theme a’ rollin’ in the Nashville Jam with the always trusty, fun to sing “Walls of Time” and those varied and intense artists mingled together on stage with smiles. Whatever happens in this year ahead, we’re off on the journey together.