The end of July is corn season in the Hudson Valley and we sure got a taste of it, liberally sprinkled with high energy and humor, along with some good ‘ol honky-tonkin’, toe-tappn’, kick up your heels music on Saturday evening. The Karl Shiflett & Big Country Show offered the HVBA audience an outstanding opportunity to watch fine musicians orchestrate an equally fine performance.
I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as Karl and his band gave us two great sets of country music played in bluegrass style with not a minor key song in either set. This concert ranked way up there on my list. What a deal at only 12 bucks for members!
When I say, “kick up your heels,” I mean it; Karl and company literally performed a lot of their music while standing on one leg. In HVBA language, lifting up one’s foot usually means the end of the song, but these guys can kick higher than Chuck Norris in one of his high action movies, with more zest than a passel of ferrets on speed. The band was decked out in their trademark two tone saddle shoes and wide, hand painted ties, circa 1942, with their well-choreographed dance around the single AEA R44 ribbon mic (an updated copy of the original RCA 44B mic of the 1930’s) which made you feel like you were in a Texas radio broadcasting studio from that era.
Karl has a well-earned reputation for finding and developing young talent, including his son, Kris Shiflett, whose thumpin’ walking bass riffs just about wore out the soles of his awesome two-toned shoes. One can never have enough of a strong walking bass, especially on the old country shuffles, like Ray Price’s “Crazy Arms.” And then there’s Brennen Ernst, a 19 year old banjo and guitar virtuoso who gave a brilliant performance throughout the night, highlighted with a superb jazz/swing rendition of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby” with the enthusiastic front row raucously shouting out “BABY,” at the end of each chorus line. Be sure to look out for this guy in the future; his Don Reno style banjo playing was smokingly hot. Well dressed was he.
The mandolin player, C. J. Lewandowski, playfully covered many of the lead vocals (and that was good) while serving as the deadpan straight man to Karl’s grand ‘ol Opry style “cornball” jokes … (and that was also good). He, like Karl, is quite a ham in his own right.
Billy Hurt Jr., on fiddle, kicked off most of the songs in an old-school country style, also handling some lead vocals with a strong rich voice. Unique to this bluegrass band, was the delightful percussionist, Dany Bureau, straight “oout” of Canada, with his washboard vest filled with all the bells and whistles one could wish for. Dany was like a one man band, able to work that washboard, in any key, without a capo – no less.
The audience was appreciative of every number and every solo by each performer, clapping with enthusiasm and smiles. The evening just flew by and seemed to be over before we knew it.
Following along in their family tradition of naming every one with a “K,” Karl was accompanied by his granddaughter, Karina June, to whom our HVBA President, Dave Angell, presented an HVBA pink tee shirt, and announced that she was an Honorary Member of the HVBA.