Great High Mountain tour lives up to its name
FleetBoston Pavillion, Boston, May 31, 2004
BOSTON - A few things may have gone against participants in the Great High Mountain Tour circa 2004.
The tour, featuring bluegrass greats Ralph Stanley and Alison Krauss in starring roles, is an off-shoot of the success of the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" movie of a few years ago. That, in turn, resulted in a hugely successful soundtrack followed by a few tours.
The question was whether the out of left field phenomena could continue.
Last December's, "Cold Mountain" movie did not do anywhere near as well as "O Brother." Nor did its soundtrack, also overseen by T Bone Burnett.
But that did not stop Burnett from putting on the tour.
So with no big movie or soundtrack backing it up, Stanley, Krauss et al hit the road to spread the gospel.
And while drawing only perhaps a 2/3 full house on a Memorial Day afternoon concert (not exactly the best timing to draw a big crowd anyway), the High Mountain Tour put on a tremendously satisfying show no matter what potential problems loomed.
The format was the same as the O Brother tour, meaning it was more of a revue than a full-fledged concert by any of the numerous acts showing up on stage.
While missing a chunk of the first set, which reportedly got off to a great start from the Sacred Harp Singers, it closed in fine form.
The brother-sister duo of Cody and Sierra Hull on acoustic guitar and mandolin respectively turned in a fine instrumental with Sierra being particularly lively and outstanding whenever she was on stage. At only 12, the seventh grader well could be a young Alison Krauss in the making.
And with that Krauss came out to quickly fill the stage.
Krauss has become an increasingly warm and funny performer over the years (joking several times after incorrectly introducing Dan Tyminski, who has only played with her for 10 years).
What has not changed one iota is that she simply owns one of the greatest voices in music today. She is so angelic and easy to listen to whether singing O Brother style music of bluegrass gospel (She stayed away from her own catalogue). "Bury Me" was a particular highlight.
Krauss' Union Station backing band is superb as well with Tyminski, who closed the first set with a strong version of the O Brother hit, "Man of Constant Sorrow," Barry Bales on bass, Ron Block on mandolin and Jerry Douglas on Dobro, a great addition.
The three-hour concert tended to be one where a group would play several songs before perhaps mixing the line-up with other performers.
Krauss, for example, played with Suzanne Cox of the Cox Family along with Cheryl White of The Whites.
The Whites had their own turn during the second half with the uplifting "Keep on the Sunny Side" and Kitty Wells' very old hit "Making Believe."
New York-based rootsy sextet Olabelle also turned in a very good performance with a non-traditional version of "John the Revelator."
The stage eventually was turned over by Krauss, the most frequent performer of the concert, to Stanley, who has reached iconic status in recent years.
He tore through a few gems like an cappella version of "O Death" and an encore of "Angel Band" where everyone came on stage.
Stanley may be 77, but he sounded in very very fine form with a lot of emotion in his voice and much appreciation of the standing O he received.
For the finale, the entire entourage of performers filled the stage for a very satisfying rendition, led by Stanley, of "Amazing Grace."
While the subject matter of many songs was death and dying, the musicians defied that to bring their brand of American music to life time and again. With not a weak moment during the entire show, the tour more than lived up the first word of its title.