All three bands recently released studio albums, and this first stop on the mini-tour was as much about the new music as the bands themselves. Each group's set featured a heavy dose of new material, which was warmly received by the appreciative packed house.
Chatham County Line took the stage first, decked-out in black suits with white dress shirts, and proceeded to wow the crowd with its unique contemporary twist on the traditional bluegrass sound. Crowding the center of the stage and sharing a stand-up microphone, the quartet dazzled on new tracks like the rambling ditty "The Carolinian," the beautiful ballad "One More Minute" and the humorous "Whipping Boy," all from the band's latest album, "IV," from Yep Roc Records.
The singular highlight of Chatham County Line's set was the band's impassioned performance of "Birmingham Jail," also from the new album. This scorching examination of the September 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. by members of a local Ku Klux Klan group that killed 4 little African-American girls was reminiscent of Bob Dylan's classic social and political commentary on "Hurricane" and brought the crowd to its feet.
Throughout the Nashville-based sextet, The Infamous Stringdusters' 11-song set, the band proved time and again why it deserved to be honored 3 times at the 2007 International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Awards. Grounded in a strong foundation of traditional bluegrass with an eye on innovation, this group incorporates extended jam sections into songs and sparkles with the high level of musical interplay between the members during live performances.
Despite having traveled from the Winnipeg Folk Festival in Manitoba for the performance, the band showed no visible signs of fatigue on songs like "Getting' Down The Road" and "Deep Elem Blues," both of which featured great jams.
A nicely-arranged cover of Shawn Camp's "Travelin' Teardrop Blues" was a pleasant surprise, while straight performances of two of the quieter songs from the band's new self-titled release on Sugar Hill Records, "Bound for Tennessee" and "When Silence is the Only Sound," were well received by the audience.
Boston-based quintet Crooked Still closed the evening showcasing songs from "Still Crooked," the band's new album on Signature Sounds Recordings. This band took command of the audience's attention from the start with a sound that is at once traditional, orchestral, gothic and beautiful.
The talented quintet effortlessly combines banjo, fiddle, cello and double bass with the mesmerizing vocals Aoife O'Donovan to create one of the most unique sounds in modern acoustic music. Highlights included performances of "Orphan Girl," "Ain't No Grave" and an energetic rendition of "Oxford Town." Bruce Molsky, an acclaimed fiddle player and resident of the Washington, D.C. region, joined Crooked Still for an instrumental fiddle tune that resulted in a rousing standing ovation.
Following a spirited set, Crooked Still was joined on-stage by all of the musicians featured throughout the evening for a group performance of the traditional classic "Cluck Old Hen," a fitting way to bring this great show to a close.