WinterWonderGrass CO 2016
Festival Experience Archive
for The Lot Scene by Parker
Mandolin Orange - Fruition - Fruition & Friends
We began our second dance with the Colorado WinterWonderGrass Festival at the annual Kick-Off Party at the Vilar Performing Arts Center located up the mountain from Avon town, the location of the festival proper. It was so very nice to be back in that gorgeous venue, with its warm woodwork and inviting atmosphere the Vilar PAC is an excellent place to hear music of any sort and certainly proved so once again on Thursday evening. Taking our time getting to our spots we caught up with myriad friends in the lobby as well as taking in all the photography up for auction. The place was abuzz with energy and anticipation of what was to come. And then it was time to take our seats for the first act of this big evening of excellent music, Mandolin Orange.
Hailing from North Carolina, Emily Frantz and Andrew Marlin have been on quite the rise in the musical world since the debut of their first album back in 2010. Their unique style and warm, calm, soothing energy has, naturally, become very popular. And this duo proved a wonderful way to get things doing for WinterWonderGrass 2016. “Old Ties and Companions” was their first selection of the evening, with Andrew taking lead vocals and backing on mandolin, Emily on guitar. Clearly these two have a synergistic style that truly dovetails one into the other and this was very present from the beginning, and rather so in this first song. It is always a pleasure to observe such tuned-in playing between members of an ensemble. A tale of hardship on the dusty range, “Missouri Borderland” came next in line for the evening. Andrew sang this heartfelt story of the trail full of passion as Emily provided some extremely tight and lovely harmonies to accompany. That was most definitely an aspect that would shine throughout the evening with Mandolin Orange: their wonderful harmonies. And, by now, most of you will know how much of a sucker I am for great harmony. Certainly one of the reasons I love bluegrass music so much. A wistful mandolin solo from Andrew led us into the sorrowful next song, “That Wrecking Ball”. One thing you could palpably feel coming from the stage that night was the passion with which these two play their music. That was obviously apparent in “That Wrecking Ball” — it just hit you in the face and then washed over you in a gentle way. Later on down their set they gave us “Little Worlds”, set in minor and imbued with a subtle, driving energy. Emily was on the fiddle for this one and Andrew on guitar, the two displaying their multi-instrumental skills with great aplomb. Reconfiguring such as this enables such a breadth of style and sound for a mere duo. And they use it to great success to be sure. They continued with “House of Stone”, with its fiddle drone lead in from Emily. “Churchyard auction. A sight to see. Where the eyes are big, and the odds are lean.” No doubt that Andrew can write some moving lyrics! And can sing them in his rich baritone as well! Worthy of note in this one: Emily’s beautiful fiddle solo in the middle. Light and lovely and filled with emotion it was a sweet counterpoint to Andrew’s picking. Andrew dedicated their next song, “The Turtle Dove and the Crow”, to his father back in North Carolina. Class act. I am sure his father would have enjoyed it. After that came the fiddle tune, “New Five Cent Piece” which saw Andrew back on mando for this one. Nothing like a lively dance tune to get the blood moving and the hands clapping! “Waltz About Whiskey” put us all in 3/4 time for a song about the very water of life: whiskey. Peppered with more of that fantastic Mandolin Orange harmony, this one proved the perfect penultimate selection, the final one being “Train Song” which they went straight into. This last song was filled with up energy and some classic lyrics lauding the merits of train travel and why not? Great way to close up their set! So, in summation, if you love great harmonies, heartfelt lyrics, soulful playing, and a welcoming energy then you will love Mandolin Orange, hands down. A wonderful first exposure to this duo, to be sure. Certainly made me look all the more forward more music from the next group of the evening, Portland’s own Fruition.
Fruition. My goodness how I do so love this band! I’ve had the privilege of seeing them many times before and so knew precisely what to expect as they took the stage to continue the opening ceremony, as it were, of WinterWonderGrass 2016. How to even describe Fruition’s sound? Rockabillygrass? Roadhouse string band? Simply pure, undiluted awesomesauceness? All of the above? Somewhere in there you’ll get close to the mark. But, be forewarned, once introduced to Fruition the addiction sets in…you’re going to want to listen to them nonstop ever after. Man, does this band write some catchy songs!! I mean, really amazing, stellar, catchy songs. Ones that delightfully stick in your head for days…ones like “Mountain Annie” their first of the evening. Love this song! How can’t you? From the familiar mandolin refrain from Mimi Naja it was clear we were in for some superb music. And then Jay Cobb Anderson’s iconic and incredible voice lights up the lyrics like a clarion call. And then the harmonies…oh the harmonies! Multi-part and polished to a high gloss — just the way I love it. And then the instrumental skills on display! Certainly one of the reasons I gravitate towards string band music of all types: phenomenal musical abilities in both voice and instrument arenas. And Fruition is certainly high up in this category. “Get out of my head. Give me back my heart, Mountain Annie.” What an auspicious start! Next up was “The Wanter” with Mimi up to the mic for lead vocals. A couple of quick and awesome solos from Mimi on mando and Jay on guitar, too. Pretty great stuff. Another favorite song of mine. Poor Kellen Asebroek had a helluva time on stage that evening due to the atmospheric conditions affecting his guitar. He broke at least four strings throughout the course of the show causing them to redo their setlist a bit on the fly. We all really felt for him as string after string snapped. But he motored along like a champ and professional. Bravo, sir! The pensive “Git Along” was next in line which featured a lengthy and lovely mandolin solo from Mimi. Later in the set came “Labor of Love” with Jay up to the mic to provide lead vocals. This is a perfect example of one of Fruition’s super catchy songs. With its building energy and memorable refrain, it really sticks in the marrow of the mind lodging there in a joyful memory for all time. Later down the line was “Little Song” featuring Kellen on keyboards and lead vocals. Time for Mr. Asebroek to croon one for us!! Sweet and soulful, this one was new to me and I was grateful to hear it. Some great drum work from Tyler Thompson throughout…really granted a driving energy to the song. Loved it. They announced that they had a new recored coming out and that this next song, “I Don’t Mind”, is on it. A real rock’n’roll feel to this one. Bluesy, too. Some of that “Roadhouse String Band” feeling to be sure — I really got into it. And some funky bass from Jeff Leonard, too, to round things out in fine fashion. I am really looking forward to hearing this one again. Maybe at DelFest? Whaddaya say, guys? A little on down the set came another rock number with a mighty drum intro from Tyler, quick and nasty and full of electricity to get “Never Again” running at high speed. Jay stepped up to the mic to take the lead on this as the entire band rocketed along with him through this wild, whirling, wonderful number. Lightning quick picking and playing all throughout, this one was an instant crowd pleaser. And why shouldn’t it be? Incredible song played with incredible energy and passion. My cup of tea! And then, one of my very favorite songs was next. And I mean very favorite. And you want to talk catchy?? Try keeping it out of your thoughts? Ha!! Try keeping this one out of your dreams… “There She Was” is Kellen’s freaky, fabulous funk odyssey inspired by a Motet show he attended (he told us one late late night at the Westin — more to come on that). And it is awesome. It has movement and mystery and magic. And it is, pure and simple, just damn good music. Bravo, Kellen, for writing one masterfully groovy song, good sir! And many thanks for it! A very new and soulful Mimi-led song, “I Should Be”, followed with “I Can’t Stop” (from their new EP) coming after. Jay really nailed the vocals for “I Can’t Stop”, too. I do so love his voice! One impressive show for the WWG Kick-Off Party — but to be totally expected from this band. That is just how they roll. Their last song was to be “Lay Down Blues” and one perfect way to finish things off. Filled with lots of rocking energy, this was a bullet train from start to finish. What a rush! Mimi took things home on the lead vocals for us telling us all that the “nighttime is the right time” which it so was that evening. Doors. Blown. Completely. Off. Damn, what a great show! And there was still more to come in the form of a Fruition & Friends set!! What the what??
The one and only Mr. Peter Rowan was the first friend to join Fruition on the Vilar PAC stage. And what a friend, right? That venerable gentleman brings so very much to the stage — it was such a treat to see him being supported by Fruition. A truly remarkable sound. Peter provided the guitar lead-in for their first collaboration: that old favorite of so many of us, “Panama Red”. Mr. Rowan sounded wonderful on the lead vocals…as wonderful as ever. And this was the first of many sing-a-longs for the audience as well. A couple of great solos from Mimi (mando) and Kellen (keys) in this one to boot. A mighty fine beginning to the set! A David Grisman song was next on the docket for us in the form of “Old and in the Way” back from Peter and David’s days of playing with Jerry Garcia. Jay Starling (Love Cannon) and Andy Thorn (Leftover Salmon) joined in the fun on stage furthering the powerhouse of talent and skill already present there. What a supergroup! The next song Peter Rowan wrote with Bill Monroe stranded on the highway in Kentucky on the way to Bean Blossom, IN. “The Walls of Time” is a mellow, yet intense journey through some very soulful vocals and some lovely harmonies. Jay Cobb was on the mouth harp for this one adding that much more soul to the mix. A stalwart standard of the bluegrass catalogue, “Midnight Moonlight” followed and was, no doubt, a huge crowd favorite for the evening with everyone singing along to the chorus with great gusto. Always a great song to hear from the man, himself. And Fruition sounded just excellent alongside Mr. Rowan. Not to mention that oh so stupendous dobro playing of Jay Starling all throughout. A huge sound from a mighty group of musicians. And an enormous thanks to Mr. Rowan as he exited the stage. What a gift that was. But then Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon came out to add their own brand of madness to the show. Some more Bill Monroe for us? Sure!! “Rocky Road Blues” was a marvelously mando-heavy Drew-led steamroller of a good time. A rollicking fun frolic, this one. And more of that delicious dobro from Jay? You bet! So good! Not to mention Vince and Andy, both mad-pickin’ away of their own accord. Such a huge sound! Vince was up to the mic lead the next song, “Y’all Come” which had us all shouting along with the band. So much fun. What a stellar combination of musicians on stage all at once! Scotty Stoughton, the mover and shaker behind WWG and of Bonfire Dub, came out for the first encore which was a Bonfire Dub song. A little reggae in the mountains, right? Really cool to see him playing alongside some of the musicians from the festival. Organizer and talent all in one. Sweet. Finally, as a way to close the evening, Mandolin Orange joined in the fun for “Meet Me on the Mountain” from Fruition’s EP with The Grant Farm. Talk about your harmonies! So many great voices all at once in colorful combination and joyous musicality. And so much freakin’ soul! Damn! Can’t ever get tired of this one to be sure. Such good music all around, all set long. Wowsers. So many thanks to Fruition and all those friends that joined them for such a memorable evening of music and fun!
It would appear that this evening’s excellence just whetted our appetites for all these bands and more in the coming weekend. Bravo to all the bands and performers and those that had a hand in making this event come to light. If this was any indication of how the weekend was to proceed then I was sure we all had nothing to fear. We were in for a weekend chocked full of the best bluegrass and string band music the world has to off at present and were appropriately stoked by that fact. Thursday night? A rousing success. Off to the remainder of the weekend!!!
Friday through Sunday on their way my friends…stay tuned!!