Monday, December 6, 2010

Seldom Scene and Tony Watt in Lexington - Review


Waiting for the Doors to Open
 

Sometimes fan spend so much time looking backwards at the history of a band and basking in the sunny glow of the original that they lose sight of what the band has become.  The current configuration of Seldom Scene has been together now since 1996, fifteen years, and as they are they stand as one of the finest and longest running bands on the bluegrass circuit.  They draw creatively on style and material developed early in the band's nearly forty year history, while continuing to add fresh material to old and well-established favorites.  On Saturday night the current version of Seldom Scene, recently seen a good deal more often than in its earlier editions, took the stage at the National Heritage Museum with good humor, wonderful singing, and plenty of energy for two sets of classic and newer Seldom Scene material.  A nearly sell-out crowd filled the warm and pleasant auditorium blessed with excellent sight lines and good acoustics for this early December concert.  This year's BBU winter series features an unusually strong lineup, and Saturday night's concert fit in perfectly.

Tony Watt & Southeast Expressway

Tony Watt is a locally well known and respected guitarist and teacher who has a national reputation as a contest picker and studio musician.  He has assembled a group of highly proficient regional bluegrass players in Southeast Expressway who opened the program at the National Heritage Museum.  Tony has recently joined the group of Wernick certified Jam Instructors to teach Pete Wernick's approach to ear-centered jamming. He'll be rolling out his first class in this program shortly after the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival, taking place in suburban Boston in February. 

Tony Watt

Grace Van't Hof plays banjo in Southern Expressway as well as in the rising national band, Della Mae. A former student of three time IBMA banjo player of the Year Kristin Scott Benson, Grace has joined the growing group of female banjo pickers.  Her singing combines a respect for traditional bluegrass repertoire with a delightfully edgy feminist tone. 

Grace Van't Hof

In addition to being a talented and engaging mandolin player, but an able luthier who builds his own mandolins.  Under the name of Outlier Workshops, Ben, a graduate of Rhode Island School of Designs, builds a full line of acoustic and electric instruments.  He often performs with various bands in New England as well as teaching in kids camps at several festivals.  I also caught him playing classical piano back stage before the concert began.

Ben Pearce

Sam Stambler brought his very solid Dobro playing and good baritone voice to Southeast Expressway. Primarily a guitar player, he also plays with Red Hot Black Top, another local band.  He helps bring a vital and dynamic quality to the band.  

Sam Stambler

Flynn Cohen played bass as well as singing lead and harmony with Southeast Experssway on Saturday night.  He is best known in Boston for his association with various Celtic groups.  He also teaches in the music department at Keene State College.  He's played with a number of bands, including bluegrass and old time.  

Flynn Cohen

There's a lively acoustic and bluegrass music scene in Boston, centered mostly around growing programs at Berklee College of Music.  A number of bands grow out of the rich musical soup the city and the many schools there have to offer.  Tony Watt and Southeast Expressway is one of these.  Together they create an interesting musical scene in this most student-oriented of all American cities.  Playing a short set of five songs, Tony Watt and Southeast Expressway showcased five lead singers and a range of interesting sounds.  Here's one of their songs:


Stan Zdonik - BBU President

Reuben Shetler - BBU Vice-President

Seldom Scene


 Seldom Scene took the stage and opened the first of its two sets with John Prine's "Paradise," which is just where they put the large and receptive audience. (No, not the destroyed town of the song, but the place Prine remembers existed before Mr. Peabody hauled it away.) The band weaves a musical tapestry of favorite old and familiar songs along with new additions to their catalog.  Filled with lyrical and instrumental strengths, the band continues its rich tradition, while adding to it.  Each member of the band emerges as an individual while simultaneously blending in to create a whole much larger than its parts.  Dudley Connell: filled with humor and enthusiasm, radiating leadership and his long history with two great bands.  Ben Eldridge, the only original member left in the band: still a master of the banjo as well as an impish elf slyly making each of his own points. Lou Reid, a member of pioneering bands including his own: always pleasant and enjoying himself while contributing superior mandolin work and his fine tenor leads and harmony.  Fred Travers, charged with filling two seemingly unfillable spaces: always contributing his luminous high tenor vocals and haunting Dobro.  Ronnie Simpkins, nearly invisible and always present: presenting strong bass support and solos as well as the necessary bass vocal harmonies that fill out the band.  This is a band that made bluegrass history from the start and continues to deliver in the present.  This is a tall order, and they deserve all the credit for their continuing accomplishment.

Dudley Connell
Ben Eldridge

Lou Reid

Fred Travers

Ronnie Simpkins
 
Lou Reid and Dudley Connell

Lay Down Sally - Video

 

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