Folk Alliance: Day One 02.16.11
With a beautiful view of the mighty Mississippi river from our room on the 19th floor, the Steam Powered showcases kicked off FAI11 in a mighty fine fashion last night for this writer. Here’s some snapshots from last night’s festivities.
The Atomic Duo kicked things off with a two song surprise opening mini-set, that featured Silas Lowe’s powerful “Texas City” – a song about the 1947 Texas City disaster – and an apropos cover of Jimmie Rodgers “Mississippi Delta Blues.” Danny Barnes says of this group, “Dude that shit is badass.” High praise indeed, and I couldn’t agree more.
Next up was Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen. Solivan is a naturally charismatic performer, equally adroit on mando and fiddle. Backed by a crack band grounded in Mike Munford’s banjo picking and Lincoln Meyer’s guitar work, he ended the set on a kinetic song called “The Runaway Ramp” which compared the folly of love to an 18-Wheeler going off the road and out of control.
One of our host bands, Fort Collin’s Lonesome Traveler could be in the running for best song title ever with “All I Need’s a Sandwich and Something to Do.” Flat picking guitarist Rick Scott really shined on this number, which was my personal favorite in a truly winning set.
An old-time in the round session with Bill Powers (Honey Don’t), Evie Ladin and Ryan Spearman was positively moving. Spearman’s quiet intensity, Ladin’s infectious joy and energy, especially when clogging on her portable stage (really, a piece of cardboard, but under her feet it became a true instrument) and Powers’ matter-of-fact and genuinely sweet songwriting all received their moments in the spotlight in this session. The three then closed down their set together with a rousing “Cripple Creek.”
Spring Creek is simply a bluegrass band with real gusto. They have a genuine diesel engine purring under the hood, which was especially evident during their signature song, the soaring “High Up in the Mountains.”A knock-your-socks-off potent cover of John Hartford’s “Natural to Be Gone” featured some ranging banjo work by Chris “C-Bob Elliot, while their take on Bill Monroe’s “Body and Soul” gave me goosebumps.
Finnders and Youngberg inspired some genuine joy and cathartic heartache during their set, especially during a long and lazy honky tonk slow dance number, complete with a weeping pedal steel. Spring Creek’s Alex Johnstone summed it up pretty well, crying “That was like going to church!” after the number, hitting the transcendent nail on the head.
There’s probably no higher compliment one can pay a band then saying they are crafting their own sound. In that spirit, there simply isn’t a band that sounds like Nederland, Colorado’s Elephant Revival. At first, one is simply smacked over the head by their beauty. But there are so many layers to unravel in their sound, that you quickly find yourself plunging into darker depths, only to be breathlessly snatched back upwards towards the light. Sometimes, music just leaves you at a loss for words. So I think in this case, it will be best to let the tapes do this set justice. Just make sure you listen to Bonnie Paine’s a cappella set closer, “Box of Words.”
The night closed down with a long bluegrass jam that stretched well into the wee hours. Having caught a 6am flight, I was exhausted and quite frankly, a bit worse for wear, so I retired after an hour or so of the jam to catch some much needed sleep and get primed for the intense schedule that kicks off on Thursday. And as I write this, the sweet sounds of someone playing John Hartford’s “Natchez Whistle” are floating through the lobby of the Marriott, calling me onwards.
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