By the response of the appreciative audience, the December 11th House Concert with Brittany Haas, Joe Walsh and Owen Marshall was a complete success.
I arrived on the cold winter night, the season’s first snow now settled and crisp at our destination in Rhinebeck. Upon entering the house I was immediately offered a chair by our gracious host, Lyn Rosen, and joined the capacity crowd of music aficionados in the inviting two-story living room.
The trio, on a short tour on the east coast, started the set with a high level of energy that was sustained throughout the evening, intermixing a blend of original compositions and old time, bluegrass and Celtic traditional tunes.
Brittany Haas’ driving and melodic 5-string fiddle playing filled the space, her phrases encouraged on not only by the appreciative audience, but as if by the wood in the very walls of the space. I had never heard Brittany live before, and was continually taken by the rich tone produced, alternatively coarse and sweet depending on the tune, always swinging with rhythmic drive as she moved with the music. And on the few tunes she sang, she presented a beautiful voice!
Joe Walsh acted as sort of de facto band leader, standing in between the other two musicians as he introduced songs. He continually kept contact with the other two musicians with just a look, lean in, smile or occasional vocal exhortation – that special type of non-verbal communication between accomplished musicians listening deeply to each other.
I’ll confess here that Joe is one of my very favorite mandolinists. His tasteful melodic lines eschew the pyrotechnics of many bluegrass solos, instead offering a deceptively simple approach which pulls the listener in rather than overwhelm. Joe offered a few of his own compositions, such as the melodic instrumental “A Little Hearts Ease” as well as singing covers of unique covers from songwriters Nick Drake and Greg Brown.
One of the surprises of the evening for me was Owen Marshall. I had never heard him play before, but his supportive DADGAD tuned guitar provided the perfect underpinning for Brittany and Joe to launch their melodies. Despite his impressive musicianship, Owen kept the audience laughing with a self-deprecating brand of humor that belied his obvious talents. In one highlight of the evening he took a solo section as the other two musicians stepped away, and immediately assured us ‘not to worry, it will be over soon’. What followed was a short history of the harmonium, then Owen accompanying himself on that instrument while he played Celtic fiddle-inspired tunes on his guitar.
By the end of the second set the harmonium became part of the group, adding a wash of orchestral sound to Marshall’s guitar rhythm, Walsh’s punctuated and harmonized mandolin fills, and Haas’ soaring fiddle seeming to emit from both earth and sky.
Overall, an amazing night of music by these young musicians for a very fortunate audience, many of whom are accomplished musicians themselves.
Before leaving, I made sure to express thanks again to our hostess, Lyn Rosen. Her reply? “We should do it again next month.”
All I can say to that is, “Yes, please!”