Mountain Stage in Fairbanks! Part 1
WC is an unabashed fan of live music. And Saturday afternoons in Fairbanks, when the radio is on, he’s usually listening to the eclectic collection of artists that appear on National Public Radio’s Mountain Stage. Since 1983, the West Virginia-based show has broadcast live concerts featuring an incredibly diverse range of music.
Friday night, Mountain Stage came to Fairbanks for the first of two shows. After a couple of decades of listening, you form mental pictures of the host, Larry Groce, and the members of the house band. WC’s mental images were complete wrong. Meet Larry Groce, the co-founder of the show and emcee, as well as the guy who gave us Junk Food Junkie, although he prefers not to talk about that.
For folks who have never listened to Mountain Stage, the typical show has 4-6 acts, each performing 2-5 songs, usually with one or two songs by the house band. There were five acts at this show. The first was Melissa Mitchell, from Anchorage, a young woman with a wonderful voice and a talent for songwriting.
Accompanied by Girdwood’s Sean “Spiff” Chambers and on two numbers by the excellent Mountain Stage Band, she was very, very good. WC has seen a lot of Alaska’s artists, but Melissa Mitchell had escaped his attention. Until now. There may be a house concert come spring.
Tim Easton is very nearly an Alaskan. WC has seen him several times, and his grunge-folk style is very appealing. Accompanied by Megan Palmer on violin and harmony vocals, Tim put together a fine set. WC is skeptical that a couple of Tim’s songs – The Festival Song, for example – will make it onto the airways, but he has an easy rapport with the crowd that make his live shows a lot of fun.
Anchorage-based The Whipsaws is a straight ahead rock band. The members were pretty nervous in the first song, but settled down about half way through the second song. WC as particularly impressed with the drummer, James Dommek. The best moment in their set may have been when lead singer Evan Phillips turned toward the off-stage Larry Groce and said, “I didn’t know it was okay to play rock and roll on Mountain Stage.”
The fourth set was by Portland, Oregon’s Horse Feathers. If you can visualize folk-rock chamber music, you’ve got the sound of Horse Feathers.
It’s interesting music, partly experimental (they played saws at one point), partly classical and rooted in folk and blues rhythms. WC’s only criticism of Horse Feathers is that it would be okay for the band members to look like you are having fun, and not to be so Terribly Serious.
The evening was capped and closed by Hot Club of Cowtown. If you can imagine the offspring of Django Reinhard and The Texas Playboys, steeped in the bar band traditions of Texas, you’ve got Hot Club. Hot jazz and western swing.
Elana James on violin, Whit Smith and Jake Erwin on slap bass blew all of the dust off the ceiling and probably loosened rivets in the roof. Incredible musicians, they bring amazing energy to their live act. The slap bass player, Jake Erwin, is simply astonishing. They are almost a different band than their recordings. Easily the hit of the night, they were a fine closing act to a show that was a lot of fun.
The Mountain Stage house band was very impressive. Its job is to make the guest acts who use it sound great. That takes a special kind of musicianship, and, as you’d expect after almost 40 years, these guys have it.
Thanks to UAF Summer Sessions for bring Mountain Stage to town. A lot of fun, great music and a wonderful evening.
But wait, there’s more! Mountain Stage is recording a second show Saturday night. Stayed tuned.
Mountain Stage’s shows are available streamed on the internet. NPR puts up one act a day. The streamed versions start to go up after the show is broadcast. Friday night’s show is set for broadcast next month.