Back in 2015, Eloise mentioned her cousin’s band Chatham County Line, who had opened for the Avett Brothers and would be up in NYC. rtb and I saw them at Rockwood and were very impressed. So, when I saw that they would be playing The Loft at City Winery, I alerted the local music-going group and rtb and mollyT bought tickets.
The last time I was at the Loft, the service was terrible. This time the service was much better. They have a limited menu for dinner – kind of elevated bar food. I had the flatbread – only one choice, which is margherita. There is also a limited wine by the glass selection and I chose the Chardonnay, which to my delight, was very good.
Opener was Morgan O’Kane – a one-man band with 5-string banjo, tambourine (played with his foot), and box drum (an old suitcase fitted with a thick piece of leather, gaffer tape, and a bass pedal), which he sits on. He has spent a lot of time busking in the streets and subways of NYC, so he can shout his songs pretty easily without a mic. You get the feeling that he is sitting on a porch somewhere down South, playing for himself and whoever passes by. He shreds the banjo – he said his mentor is Phil Roebuck. He is another one of those Southerners with a punk sensibility but playing original Americana/roots music. It is bluegrass and punk and rock and roll. I really enjoyed his set.
Chatham County Line is Dave Wilson (acoustic guitar, harmonica, vocals), John Teer (fiddle, mandolin, vocals), Chandler Holt (banjo, vocals), and Greg Readling (stand-up bass, vocals). Wilson takes the lead on the most of the songs and the stage banter. In some ways the band reminded me of Poundcake with the joking around between songs and making fun of one another. Wilson introduced Teer as the third greatest musician to come out of his hometown (the others being Don Gibson and Earl Scruggs) but then Holt reassured Teer that he had two things in his favor – he was alive and young – so there was an opportunity to change that.
One of the nice things is that they are totally acoustic. Yes, there are mics for amplification, but none of the instruments are plugged in, so we are getting their real sound (unless the sound engineer screws around with it). They could have all gathered their instruments around one mic and it would have sounded fine. And their voices are all balanced on stage because they all sing into one mic. And I love how they all wear suits on stage.
This Friday they are releasing a new album of covers and they started with the Louvin Brothers’ “My Baby’s Gone” (dedicated to the Cactus Blossoms because they like brother acts and you can hear the Everly Brothers in their version). Teer did a great job on mandolin playing “Bumblebee” from Leo Kottke’s Mudlark and Holt did a fantastic job on a 5-string banjo version of the surf classic “Walk! Don’t Run” made famous by The Ventures (originally a jazz instrumental by Johnny Smith). They also played the Stanley Brothers’ “Think of What You’ve Done.” When Wilson mentioned they were going to do a certain song because they were in NYC and said the name John, I was wracking my brain for the name of a folksinger/bluegrass singer named John, who was from NYC. Then they played the first few notes and I immediately recognized “Watching the Wheels” by John Lennon. It was such a slow sweet version – I did not think the song could get anymore sentimental than it already was.
They also played original songs like “Crop Comes In.” Teer did a very long and very good long fiddle solo – he was playing so hard that I thought he was going to saw through the fiddle like a Bugs Bunny cartoon – while the rest of the band left the stage and then they came back. We pretended they had left for an encore, we heard a couple of more songs, and then they were finished.
It was a good night of brilliant musicianship and some laughs.
By Carene Lydia Lopez