Friday the 13th proved extraordinarily lucky for the 350 people traveling near, far and wide to Christ Church in Poughkeepsie to feast their ears on the legendary Tony Rice and his accompanying “Unit.” To be sure, the show represented the HVBA’s most ambitious project ever–and by far. And by all accounts, from both performers and a thrilled audience, the show was our biggest success.
How fitting that Tony began the show with “My Favorite Things” and, after a long intro, established the melody. Then he and each band member improvisationally took the tune to town. For the uninitiated, Tony Rice is considered by many to be the most influential flatpicking guitarist over the past 40 years. His bluegrass cred is in the top echelon, but he effortlessly blends bluegrass, swing and jazz styles, melting the genres into oblivion. At the start of the show Tony expressed his hope that he and his crew would play some music to melt away the worries and troubles, even if for just a few hours.
His more than able rhythm section, an all-star ensemble in their own right, included his brother Wyatt (14 years the younger)on guitar, Josh Williams on mandolin and lead vocals, Rickie Simpkins sawing away on fiddle, Rob Ickes sliding resonator guitar or, as Tony called it ,”The Dobro,” and, not to be overlooked, Bryn Davies, who was all over the fretboard of her upright bass.
Josh Williams is an HVBA favorite, gifting us on his 30th birthday last Fall with an amazing show at Temple Beth El in Poughkeepsie. Josh recalled his amazement at receiving a life-size “guitar cake” baked by Linda Perfecto and presented to him in celebration and appreciation for his goodness to us and to music lovers everywhere.
But last night the inimitable Tony Rice was the brightest star in the constellation shining on us all in Christ Church. Over the decades many have listened to Tony’s playing and many imitate his style. But Tony Rice is, in fact, the master and an icon. His subtle touch, in my opinion, is as expressive as even his trademark licks and blazing speed. While some may cop his licks, none possess his artistic touch. Tony and Company’s treatment of songs like “Wayfaring Stranger,” which he recorded with Emmy Lou Harris; Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “John Wilkes Booth”; and Norman Blake’s “Ginsing Sullivan,” with great harmonies by Josh and Bryn will long be remembered by all present. Tony has fun when he plays, wearing his pleasure on his sleeve when a bandmate rips a particularly great solo, smiling and laughing, conveying amazement at each bandmate’s exploits. An audience member, not particularly versed in bluegrass music, remarked to me how the musicians played together, subtly trading licks, riffing off one another seeming to weave the music into layers.
Tony paid tribute to mentors Gordon Lightfoot and Clarence White, introducing “I Am A Pilgrim” with a story about how he heard Clarence play it on that very same Martin guitar (that was now in his hands) in 1960. Tony charmed the audience, telling in a raspy voice, stories including growing up in California and staying inside playing guitar while his friends were outside skateboarding and riding bikes. Tony even related playing in the sewers of Los Angeles. That’s all our good fortune because his efforts were our blessing last night.
Of course, such a memorable night and amazing success was made possible by the group and individual efforts of HVBA members and friends. I am so proud of the work we do together. It is a testament to everyone’s contribution large and small, and in so many ways, that the HVBA has become the go-to place for the very best in bluegrass music. The thanks are many, but the biggest debt of gratitde is owed by all to Lynn Lipton, who secured the Tony Rice Unit and masterminded the entire event. Thank you, Lynn.
And, Lynn, most graciously, expresses her heartfelt thank you thusly:
Another HVBA success and it only happens because of this incredible team of people. You guys are totally awesome. You give so much of yourselves to bring these concerts to Poughkeepsie and, as Jerry Oland said last night, Poughkeepsie is where it’s happening (or something to that effect).
Frank Dietrich came up with the idea for the guitar workshop and that was a huge success. He also was out there in the parking lot with Pat Dinges before the concert, getting everyone’s car parked without any smashups.
Mark Hudson sold many more tee shirts than in the past and has the ongoing responsibility for handling all our merchandise in addition to his getting the word out on Facebook.
Jeff Anzevino was an amazing emcee! His introduction was so enthusiastic and he managed to even plug the jewel of Poughkeepsie (no not our bluegrass group, but the Walkway)!!!
Zoe & Bella Brodsky brought in almost $500 for the Martin guitar! Who in the world could resist those Brodsky kids? Bella helped me count the money and then picked the winner! Thanks, Rick, for having such great kids and for the loaner last night.
Linda and Eric Perfecto and Nancy Angell were flawless in the handling of the refreshments. And all the people who contributed their baking made the evening a delicious event, to boot.
Dave Angell and Dave Cobb were there to do just about everything that needed doing. After carrying, lifting and checking the room, they positioned themselves in the room to make certain that all was perfect.
Betsy Rome’s poster design and program notes were absolutely stunning. What you all should know is that she constantly had to make changes to the poster as we added sponsors. I mean “constantly” and without complaint. The result of the posters and program notes was a dazzling thing of beauty. Tony Rice requested copies of the posters for himself and we will send them to him. Thank you, Betsy.
OK, you guys…Peter Conklin is my hero! You guys have to know that he was (again) the first one and the last one on the scene. He spent part of his week getting our posters and program notes ready and he spent almost all of Friday setting up the sound all by himself. Danny was there to run the soundboard at night, but Peter didn’t stop for a second. We all owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude.
So there you are….another great concert by a great team. Thank you all so very, very much.
And finally, Tony Rice expressed that he’d love to come back and play for us. Wouldn’t that be a treat? Tony’s hope at the beginning of the night was realized. Yes, Tony, you and your music kept our rapt attention last night. Our cares were nowhere to be found last night and, with your music still ringing in my ears, even today. And, what’s more, people will be talking about your performance for years to come.
Jerry Oland is right–Poughkeepsie is where it’s happening.
See you all at the next show!