Monday, November 24, 2014

James King Concert in Westminster, VT: Review

We drove up route 12 from Keene and crossed the Connecticut River into Vermont on a cold, dark Friday night to attend the James King concert at a new bluegrass venue being used for the first time by Candi and Seth Sawyer, promoters of the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival, Westminster, VT may be the oldest township in Vermont, the first state to join the United States after the original thirteen, being admitted to the Union in 1791 as the fourteenth state. The Town of Westminster has a treasure trove of 18th and 19th century buildings, but little else to recommend it to a traveler. The Westminster Institute, built in 1924 as a result of a bequest, is a standout building along route 5 between Bellows Falls and Putney. Its small auditorium and stage provide an adequate space for the sort of bluegrass event that, along with rather small, regional bluegrass festivals, provide bluegrass music to those who seek out and find live music for entertainment. About 100 people showed up for this show featuring the James King Band with the Seth Sawyer Band providing the opening act.

The Seth Sawyer Band

 During the past couple of years, the Seth Sawyer Band has solidified into a regular quartet with Dave Shaw (on banjo, fiddle, mandolin, or guitar) and Dave Tex Orlomoski (on Mandolin and Guitar) each serving as capable harmony and vocal solists as well. The band has become increasingly popular at festivals around New England as it has solidified and become tighter. It specializes in performing classic bluegrass and old country covers as well as Seth Sawyer songs, some of which have been recorded by the Gibson Brothers. Here's one:

The Seth Sawyer Band - Long Forgotten Dream - Video

Seth Sawyer

Candi Sawyer

Dave Tex Orlomoski

I've always wondered how someone who's as much a product of New England as Dave Orlomoski became Tex. It seems that when he and Dave Shaw played in Bear Bridge Band, they decided there couldn't be two Dave's in a band, much as Bill Monroe wouldn't have two Bills, leading Bill Keith to become Brad (his middle name) when he was a member of the Bluegrass Boys. So Dave became, and remains, Tex, a valued member, with Dave Shaw, of the Seth Sawyer Band.

Dave Shaw

Dave Shaw is a talented multi-instrumentalist as well as a very solid high tenor singer with enough range to sing above Seth's powerful tenor voice. He also has an encyclopedic knowledge of bluegrass and country music.  Here he is with a Jim & Jesse song:

The Seth Sawyer Band - Congratulations, Anyway - Video

The James King Band

James King is ill. He has stage four cirrhosis of the liver and is in need of a liver transplant. He must keep performing, because it's who he is and helps provide a sense that he is working towards being able to afford the very necessary surgery. He arrived at the Westminster Institute in Westminster, Vermont on a bitterly cold late November evening on the first leg of a grueling four day three venue tour to Vermont, Connecticut, and in New York's Adirondack region. It's worth asking whether the very qualities have contributed to his greatness through the years are the ones that have also caused his current illness at the age of fifty-six. Bluegrass was a part of James' life from the beginning, as his father had played with Don Reno and Ted Lundy's band. After a stint in the Marine Corps, James launched his own career in 1979. He was a featured vocalist with Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys. His major breakthrough as an artist in his own right came when Rounder Records released "These Old Pictures" with a backup band featuring members of the Johnson Mountain Boys.  His latest album, Three Chords and the Truth was nominated for a Grammy award and he has been a multiple winner of the SPBGMA award as Male Traditional Vocalist of the Year.

James King

James is noted for wearing his heart on his sleeve, as he sings plaintive songs of love and loss, and spins musical stories of a hard life. His renditions of The Bed by the Window, Thirty Years of Farming, Echo Mountain, and Just as the Sun Went Down will be played and sung around the jam circle as long as folks sing bluegrass music. His duet of Lonesome River with Rhonda Vincent , which I recorded at Gettysburg two years ago, has been viewed over 20,000 times. James lives each of his songs every time he sings them. He's known to lose himself in a song so deeply that he tears up and has difficulty continuing. This availability of his deep emotional well to his immediate performance has made him a beloved performer for a generation. But at what cost? James is a man of big emotions and big appetites. He has overindulged all of these, leading to both his current illness and his reputation as a performer. His life and success have led to his current situation, which any fan or friend can only hope finds a successful resolution. A benefit concert to contribute to James' medical expenses will be held in Nashville on December 10th at the Nashville Palace. The winner of the 50/50 rally on Friday night contributed his entire $85 pot to James' medical expenses.

James King Band - I've Never Been So Lonely in My Life - Video

A characteristic James King's road band has been rapid turnover, much of it as a result of the chaos in his life. Recently, there have been three constants, which have added a measure of continuity to the band's performance. Fiddler Merle Johnson has been playing with James for three or four years, providing the kind of solid fiddle performances King's music requires. For the past several months, C.J. Lewandowski  (mandolin) and Dylan Scott (banjo) seem to have committed themselves to supporting James' efforts.

Merle Johnson

C.J. Lewandowski

Dylan Scott

Andre Eglevsky

 Dany Bureau

For many attending this show, it was a sad event to see James King in his current condition. Nevertheless, there is the possibility of help, should a liver become available and James be in condition to receive it. The provisions of the ACA and the possibility of getting insurance despite pre-existing condition increase the opportunities. Everyone associated with bluegrass music is pulling for James King.

The James King Band - Chisled in Stone - Video