Another great night of superb music that could be described as tangently bluegrass, but coming at the sold-out crowd from two very different perspectives.
Opener: High Pine Whiskey Yell
Most of this band used to be called Fall Creek String Band, who I have written good things about on these pages before. Now they have themselves a full-time guitarist in the form of my friend and co-worker Brian Carrington and have turned over the mic to Chad, their inexhaustible frontman and stand-up bass player. Rounding out the quartet is Tyler on mandolin and Scotty on the fiddle. In true bluegrass fashion, each of them would be singing a diddy or two on this night.
A few topics covered during their set: greedy bankers robbing from the common man (“Bankster”), being too dirty to come inside the house and washing yourself off with a hose first (“Dirty Boy”), skiing and drinking (“Idaho Powder Boy”), shoplifting at Walmart and the specter of mobile meth labs in their parking lots (“Walmart Blues”), autonomous vehicles and the existential threat they pose to the truck driving men (and women) of America (“Robot Truckers”), and the cows that had their blood sucked one night this summer in Oregon (unknown).
Throughout their raucous and fun set Chad was telling stories and talking a million miles an hour. My two favorite non-musical parts of the evening were Chad telling us more than twice that they “have just a few more for ya”, including before their last song; and Chad giving us this line: “I really do like Idaho but I don’t like the government getting in the way of my drinking”. My thoughts, exactly.
We were also treated to a couple of covers – one obscure (Mountain Sprout’s “Dry Counties of Arkansas”) and one decidedly not so (“Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd). These guys are an absolute treat and I will be making sure to see them again soon – I suggest you do the same.
Headliner: The Lil Smokies
In a clear contrast to their terrific openers, The Lil Smokies are a well, well-oiled machine. Thankfully, unlike some high-profile bluegrass bands I have seen, they still have enough energy and a touch of rough-around-the-edges quality to be consistently fun to watch. And, oh my, are they excellent when they get in a jam-band groove, as they did several times on this night.
Lead man Andy Dunnigan kicks the dobro’s ass (even if he got a pick stuck in there and spent the time between a few songs struggling to get it removed), Matt Cornette pays a fine banjo, Scott Parker rocks the upright bass and according to Andy has “the best abs in the band”, and Matt “Reverend” Rieger strummed the acoustic guitar while his long hair flowed about him thanks to a fan sitting on the stage.
However, the man who stole the show for most of the evening was fiddle player and part-time singer Jake Simpson. He is an absolute beast on that thing and his vocal takes on “Kansas City” (New Basement Tapes-Dylan) and “Call to Arms” (Sturgill Simpson) were highlights of the night. The women around me made it very clear that they also wanted to take his clothes off, for what that’s worth. It must not suck to be you, Jake. Keep up the good work.
The band just released a bunch of covers on Spotify this fall and we were treated to a couple of them, including “Dancing in the Dark” and “Paperback Writer”. I am not as familiar with their originals as most of the excited and lively crowd, but now have good reason to go revisit their studio recordings.