I'm fresh back from a trip to Asheville, North Carolina. We found it to be a remarkable cultural center that is conducive to producing art at the highest level.
Friday night was all about music. Three groups played on an impromptu stage set up under the I-240 overpass on Lexington Avenue -- all powered by a massive solar panel. The series is called Downtown After Five.
My son and I arrived around six thirty and the events were already in full swing, led by a group called Brushfire Stankgrass, which included electric banjo and guitar in their instruments. The first impression was of a bluegrass group, but they quickly went beyond direction into an electric fusion more reminiscent of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. The mix in the audience also surprised me -- ranging in age from the young people you'd expect to see at an outdoor concert to many people in my own fiftyish baby boomer age group ... and beyond.
Here is a shot of Brushfire Stankgrass in action.
The banjo player and lead guitarist were both fine musicians and drove the band and the audience to very high energy levels. They built songs step by step, increasing intensity until the solos reached a crescendo with a flurry of notes, before returning to the basics of melody and swinging rhythm.
They ended around eight and we started thinking about dinner, but one group remained. Twenty minutes later, an Australian guitarist, Geoff Achison took the stage and played two acoustic blues numbers. Geoff can belt out a blues effectively, with a vocal approach reminiscent of Eric Clapton, but his guitar playing offered more flash than substance on these first two songs. He then strapped on his electric guitar and his drummer and bassist joined to complete a power trio. The trio sound kicked up the energy level, but Achison still played erratically and his body weaved around the stage as if he were hoping to get inspired by the movement.
Another element was needed and arrived a few minutes later in the person of musical virtuouso Randall Bramblett. Bramblett normally leads his own band, but tonight he played the role of sideman on soprano and tenor sax. Achison said, "We're just jammin", but Bramblett's sax fills and solos gave the music much needed depth. Song after song, Randall continued to elevate the music and really got the crowd dancing in the streets. His energy pulled up the rest of the band and Achison had fine moments himself when he and Bramblett traded licks on material crossing the gamut from funky blues to shuffles to boogie and even reggae. The quartet put on a great show and kept us boogying in the streets until darkness fell.
Here is a shot of the band with Achison on guitars and vocal, and Bramblett on soprano sax.
I wouldn't mind seeing Achison again; I sensed he's better than he showed this night and we got glimpse of that during his crossfire exchanges with Bramblett. As for Bramblett, I'd love to see him again and see what his band is doing these days. He played with soul and clarity. This guy is a major musical talent. He's touring across the South this summer.
We had two other encounters with brilliant artists the next day in Asheville. I'll write about that in another post.