Tuesday, February 5, 2019

It's a Gas, Gas, Gas

It wasn't my first Whiskey Rebellion rodeo.

But clearly that wasn't apparent on my face or the woman who sold me my ticket at Firehouse Theater wouldn't have asked if it was my first time there. When I laughed and said no, she smiled knowingly, saying, "You know what to do then."

Sure did. Go find the best possible seat and settle in to hear a top-notch bluegrass band pay tribute to the Rolling Stones. And unlike when I'd gone to the Dylan tribute, this time there was a container of earplugs on the counter for those fearing volume.

Are you kidding? My ears have been abused for so many years that there was no way a bluegrass band was going to offend them. Besides, I keep ear plugs in my bag for emergency punk shows, which this was not. Interestingly, the overhead music before the show was the Beatles, a foreshadowing, perhaps, of what's to come with Whiskey Rebellion's next tribute show.

Waiting for the show to begin, I cased the joint and did a mental Venn diagram of the sold-out crowd. Overlapping at the center were bluegrass fans, Baby Boomer couples, musicians and Stones fans. One of the few millennial couples was seated behind me and I overheard him tell her, "This is my Dad's kind of venue." But before she could draw the wrong conclusion (that his parents weren't hip), he added, "But they live in Church Hill and they're both psychologists."

Son, as long as they're still going to shows and have a venue type, I'd lay off the commentary and salute them instead. We'll just see if you keep going to shows once you've passed the half-century mark.

Let's just say it was the kind of crowd that, when artistic director Joel Bassin was mentioning Firehouse goings-on, murmured and reacted to such buzzwords as Chekov, Oedipus and gospel choir.

A literate, musical crowd.

"Feel free to dance, or go to the bar or stretch your legs during the show," he instructed the crowd, before introducing the "greatest band in the world."

Whiskey Rebellion was a five piece this time because their banjo player - the only one in the group who'd actually seen the Stones and that was in '94 - hadn't been able to make it, although a camera had been set up for him to watch the show (and for us to wave hello to him). That left acoustic guitar, bass, drums, fiddle and keys to carry on, with the banjo player instructed to practice along at home as they played.

From the first acoustic guitar strums, the crowd recognized the song, with one guy calling out, "Paint it Black, you devils!"

The only problem was that the singer's vocal mic wasn't turned on, so when the song ended, he asked, "Am I on?" and the audience roared back, "Nooooo!" followed by shouts of, "Play it again!" which they did, but only part of it. A couple of songs later, it was a ghost in the machine - aka feedback - that bedeviled one song before everything smoothed out for good.

Not going to lie, as a casual Stones fan, there were several songs I didn't recognize as well as plenty I did, like "Dead Flowers," "Under My Thumb" and "Wild Horses." Shaking his head between songs, the singer acknowledged, "These guys wrote some good songs."

Many of the songs required the fiddle player to play Keith Richard's lead guitar part, which worked to great effect, never more so than on "Gimmee Shelter," where his lead was nothing short of masterful.

Between songs, an audience member shouted out, "Hey, how about 'Waiting on a Friend?" and got no response from the band. "Hey, your friends are here," she tried again. "Waiting on a friend?"

No response from the band, although the singer did go on to observe, "Of all the bands we've paid tribute to - Grateful Dead, Tom Petty, Dylan - the Stones have more southern drawl than any of them. So a British man doing southern drawl, like 'drag me awa-aay.' It's hard to do!"

The sped-up fiddle solo on "Midnight Rambler" involved a whole lot of build-up and was matched by the speed of the guitarist strumming so fast his hand was a blur. Afterwards, the singer said, "Doing Mick is hard on the voice. That's alright, he loved PBR!" and took a swig from his own can.

What I'd discovered at the Dylan tribute was how much I'd liked hearing older music played through a bluegrass filter. That I wasn't particularly a Stones fan mattered not at all because, let's face it, at this point they're part of the 20th century songbook.

During intermission, I inserted myself into a conversation after hearing one guy telling another about a new building project in Manchester that involved a common room as part of the master plan. The catch was, all residents had to commit to having three meals a week with the other residents in that room. And while most of the pre-sold units had gone to millennials (including some with young children), an 80-year old couple had also bought one.

Sounds like a most interesting couple, we all agreed.

Guy #2 then shares that there's a planned community in Hanover County on ten acres with small houses scattered about, all within a 2-mile walking distance. "I could see doing that with a few other couples, but it was too close to Route 1." I got the impression he saw it as a middle-age built-in party.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Also overheard at intermission, 'Well, I did grow up in Mechanicsville." Whatever that proved and I was curious, I didn't get to find out.

When the second set began, the singer joked, "So we look pretty cool on this stage, don't we? It's super-different!" He was referring to the set for Firehouse's current production of "Gospel Oedipus," complete with bench, pulpit, fencing and a throne, which had been turned backwards for the performance. And it did frame them nicely.

Whiskey Rebellion's second set was all original material well executed and over in a flash, but the crowd wasn't having it.

"One more, one more!" many in the crowd called out and the band came back for one last Stones song, getting everybody thoroughly riled up by doing "Satisfaction." The cheering at the fiddle solo was almost louder than the song, but then again, so was the crowd's clapping along that accompanied the last half of it.

That's when you know this probably isn't anyone's first rodeo. Okay, except maybe the guy with the hip parents.

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