David Gray and Allison Krauss: Very Different Acts on a Very Cold Night

The last concert WC attended at the outdoors venue Outlaw Field it was 100° F. At the end of David Grey and Allison Krauss’s show on Sunday night, it was 37°.

It’s all right, the music kept us warm. At least until WC’s bicycle ride home.

Neither Gray nor Krauss is on WC’s list of very favorite artists. But Mrs. WC is a huge fan of David Gray and we had seen Allison Krauss and Union Station in Fairbanks about 15 years ago – thanks, Trudy and Mase! – and thought it would be fun to see her again.

David Gray and Alison Krauss are two artists from two different parts the world – WC isn’t just talking geography here – and played two very different sets. Nevertheless, they were tied together by a shared peaceful sensibility and a tendency to keep things simple.

David Gray, Outlaw Field, Boise, October 15, 2017

David Gray, Outlaw Field, Boise, October 15, 2017

Mrs. WC was excited enough to see David Gray that she was in line at 3:30 PM for the 7:00 PM show. The result was seats in the very front, wrapped in winter gear and fleece blankets in low-rider folding chairs.

And it was David Gray who opened, first solo on guitar and piano and then backed by a bassist, a guitarist/keyboardist and a drummer. Gray is a Brit, a kind of English version of James Taylor, with highly personal, highly elliptical lyrics. Unlike JT, Gray never breaks out into serious rock and roll or down and dirty blues, but he is a skilled songwriter. In addition to some new tunes, he gave us his three big hits, “The One I Love,” “Babylon” and “Sail Away.” As an example of Gray’s approach, “The One I Love” is a story told by a solider between artillery barrages:

As the tracer glides
In its graceful arc
Send a little prayer out to ya
‘Cross the falling dark

Tell the repo man
And the stars above
You’re the one I love

The lyrics emerge against a rising, almost hopeful melody line. It’s pretty impressive. Gray showed some impressive guitar chops, including laying down a triple loop and then playing the melody line of “Nemesis” against the loop. Not an easy trick live.

Allison Krauss with Sidney Cox (L) and Ron Block (R), Outlaw Field, Boise, October 15, 2017

Allison Krauss with Sidney Cox (L) and Ron Block (R), Outlaw Field, Boise, October 15, 2017

Allison Krauss followed. not with her usual band, Union Station.” In fact, her set was entirely bluegrass-free. She brought along two of the Cox Family, Suzanne Cox and Sidney Cox, best known from the movie soundtrack, “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou.” Krauss’ set was anchored around her ethereal soprano voice. Maybe it was the set list, or maybe the chilly temperature, but there wasn’t much of her fiddle. Both guitarists wore fingerless gloves. It didn’t interfere with their playing in the least. James Mitchell on electric guitar, in particular, gave us some fine licks.

The first half of Krauss’ set was mostly pure Nashville country music, one of WC’s least favorite kind of tunes. The closest to pop was a cover of an Everly Brothers’ tune. A few old Appalachian folks songs, featuring harmonies from the Coxes, and a mix of gospel music, highlighted the second half.

Krauss closed her set with a series of gospel tunes. That includes a locked-in-tight, five-part a cappella performance of “Down to the River to Pray,” perhaps Krauss’ best known cover from the hugely successfully “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack and “Nearer My God to Thee.” Standing in front, a few feet from that stage, watching the tells among the singers, listening to harmonies about as pure as you can get live, was a pure delight.

It’s 3.9 miles from Outlaw Field to WC’s house. On the bicycle ride home, it was about 37° F. If WC is going to be serious about cycling this winter, there’s a bicycle helmet liner in the near future. WC could say the memories of the show kept him warm on the bike ride home. But that would be lying.

Thanks to the Idaho Botanical Garden for another fine concert series this summer. And Fall. Late Fall. WC is already looking for to next summer’s acts.