Thursday, September 4, 2008

A great band (see them if you can!), and a fine room to listen in

A few months back, my wife and I took a weekend trip to Asheville, NC. Long ago, we lived there, but hadn't really been back since. Before we went, the Lovely Bride went online and found a bluegrass concert at a place called the Grey Eagle Tavern and Music Hall, featuring a band called Cadillac Sky. We'd never heard of either.

We arrived at the venue, and were a bit worried. It was on the edge of a fairly industrial area, in a somewhat rough-looking part of town we had not frequented when we lived there fifteen years ago. We drove around, trying to decide what to do. (It was general admission, so we were there 90 minutes early, and the place looked deserted.) We finally saw a few more cars arrive, so we bravely parked and headed in.

When we walked in, I saw two things that told me right off that we would be OK. First, the chalk board over the bar area was equally divided between food, wine, and beer choices. Second, on the food menu, the choices included Crawfish Étouffée, Pasta Alfredo with alligator, and Jambalaya. French Fry choices were "white" or "sweet". This was not your ordinary redneck bar, not by a long shot. And, to top things off, the whole place was smoke-free. It was like hitting the trifecta!

I ordered the pasta with Andouille sausage and alligator and a glass of something red. Ooooo, baby!

We meandered into the stage area just a few minutes before the band came on. Seating was on old wooden chairs, with a few couches strewn about for good measure. The lighting was sort of dodgy-looking as well, but when the band came on stage, I knew right away where all the money went: the sound was incredible! You'd think a bluegrass band wouldn't need much sound support, but Cadillac Sky is not your everyday bluegrass band. They had pick-ups (with effects pedals!) for the banjo and the fiddle; the guitar, bass, and mandolin were miced and had pickups, and there were additional mics for three singers. Everything was perfectly balanced and clear, yet never overly loud for the room.

The audience was involved, (you could almost say it was an interactive experience), but never rude or unruly. The stage was only slightly higher than the house floor, but separated by lights and monitors. After a song or two, the leader, (a tall, freneticly energetic mandolin player and singer) chose someone in the front row to manage the play list, creating an even stronger bond between performer and patron. The show had started off at a gentle trot, and within minutes, we were all transported into a single unit - audience, band, building, everything. It all blended into an almost spiritual cocoon around us where, for about 90 minutes, we laughed, clapped, cried, howled, and sat in silent awe as we listened to intricate passages unleashed by talented, practiced performers into a heady mixture of color, sound, and energy. Near the end, one of the band members accidently stepped on a part of the sound wiring, rendering it useless for the rest of the concert. Undaunted, the five of them jumped over the footlights into the front floor area, and performed four or five songs totally acoustically, with the same sensative balance and attention to each part of the music I had thought merely the result of fine engineering. This group has a sense of ensemble rare among musicians who usually depend on electronics for their support. You could tell they not only play together out of fun, but because they respect each other musically.

Too soon, it was over. The last song came and went, they left the stage, and our only memory had to be carried out on a CD and my camera's flash card. I'm looking forward to hearing them play again. And you can bet, next time we head toward Asheville, we'll check the schedule of the Grey Eagle for another night's entertainment. You'd do well to do the same.


from dusty archives - Largo Lodge

[ed. This piece was written some time ago, but I found it recently while moving hard drives on a computer. I thought some folks may find it ...