With a band name like The Flying Circus and the leaking of a rehearsal photo showing the musicians in costume, the HVBA audience at Trinity Church last Friday night (4/24) hardly knew what to expect. A motley (yet somehow polished) crew marched into the room from the rear. The audience gasped. I will “say no more” about their entrance.
If you weren’t there, you missed a stellar performance from four of the finest bluegrass musicians in this region. Fred Robbins was able to capture the whole business on video, with the enthusiastic consent of the band leader who calls himself Col. Buff Orpington (“Buff” to his closest friends). I have been threatened that I will never again be invited to a Circus rehearsal, so for the purposes of this review I must refer to the musicians by their stage names only. A clever reader will be able to piece the rest together by consulting Fred Robbins’ photos still published earlier this week.
Dr. Butcher, who regularly performed with White Mountain Bluegrass earlier in her career, did an OUTSTANDING job playing Bill Monroe style mandolin numbers including “Come Hither to Go Yonder,” “Tombstone Junction,” and “Monroe’s Farewell to Long Hollow.” She took a few solo singing breaks, with a beautiful voice that was both soft and strong: Outstanding! She also conducted four (4) successful surgeries during intermission.
Big E (who looked quite dashing in his lime green sneakers, extra short tie and bib overalls, and red felt “crown” cap) proved that he is indeed a Carter Stanley maven and more than capable of standing up to his commanding officer. “E” played a mean, throaty guitar and sang a variety of traditional Stanley songs such as “Rolling on Rubber Wheels” and “The Flood of 57”; he then leapt to imported material like Ian Tyson’s “Navajo Rug.” His boisterous nature was barely controlled by The Colonel’s stern guiding hand.
The Hon. Arthur Pewty was a man of few words. He performed manfully and powerfully on the bass fiddle, playing a spectacular solo on “Little Darling Pal of Mine.” As a special treat to his loyal fans, he also flat-picked the guitar on two numbers, “Soldier’s Joy” and “Tombstone Junction.” I hesitate to mention this – and it is not a criticism by any means – but Pewty had a sort of wardrobe malfunction late in the program. Luckily for him and for us, his wife had provided him with a colorful backup undergarment that displayed a side of him that we had never seen.
The Colonel remained unflappable, no matter the challenge. When Little Eddie Skraggs crashed the stage and announced “I wanna pick!” the Colonel took it in stride and put the lad on the bass. The Colonel is a very talented multi-instrumentalist. However for this performance, he confined himself to the banjo. His banjo picking on a couple of Ralph Stanley numbers in particular, “Big Tilda” and “Mastertone March,” was masterful. (Always modest and unassuming, he suggested that I describe his playing as “faithfully and reliably rendered.” I cannot confine myself to such understatement.) He also put quite a bit of passion into his singing with Dr. Butcher and Big E.
I caught up with the impresario, Dick Bowden, after the show. He reported that he had received good feedback from both the performers and the audience, and mentioned his admiration for the Colonel’s skillful formation, training and deployment of this all-New York squadron. He also thanks the HVBA, and I quote: “from the bottom of his heart (he hasn’t heard from his liver yet).”