June 18th, 2008 at 4:01 pm
I’ve seen Hot Club of Cowtown surprise a group of fans as the opening act at a Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan concert in Wichita. I’ve also seen the trio dazzle a crowd of several thousand on the headlining stage at the Walnut Valley Festival near Winfield, Kan.
Now, I’ve seen them wow a crowd in someone’s living room. Such was the case when the Texas-based Western swing and jazz combo invaded GoodFolk Productions — Mike Shirkey’s House venue in Fayetteville — on June 17.
It seems like every time I mention GoodFolk, I end up spending precious words marveling at the size of the venue in relationship to the size of talent onstage. It’s redundant, perhaps, but if any band that has played for thousands at a time is coaxed into a venue that when packed might hold 80 — and packed it was on that Tuesday night — it’s worth mentioning.
And those in attendance were lucky to have seen it. Just six months ago, the band was still on what it referred to as a “two-year vacation” while fiddle player Elana James pursued a solo career.
Perhaps a solo career wasn’t meant to be, but one couldn’t help but feeling her efforts with Whit Smith (guitar) and Jake Erwin (upright bass) in Hot Club of Cowtown is.
The band has been playing together again for several months now and preparing a new album. If there were any signs of rust, the capacity audience didn’t seem to notice or care, showering the players with praise at every fiddle run, extended guitar lick or bass solo.
Lodged in the middle of their set was a good indicator of just how natural their interplay is. James stopped sawing for a just a second, tipping her bow toward Smith and glancing his way. He responded with two chords, a perfectly syncopated antidote to her furious playing. And then they rambled on.
During a set that lasted about 2 hours and fifteen minutes — but did include a 20 minute break — the group blasted into songs such as “Chinatown, My Chinatown” “Ida Red” “Run Away With Me” and “Sleep.” The group also dipped deep into current they sprung from, covering tunes from Bob Wills (“I Can’t Go On This Way,” as an example) and Jimmie Rodgers along the way.
The band made up their set list as they went, taking a moment between each song to decide on the tune before leaping in. The improvisation didn’t end there, of course. Each of the members are raving instrumentalists, and each had a turn to show off a bit for a crowd that seemed to be having just as much fun as the musicians did.
The trio ended the night with the powerful punch of “Old Fashioned Love,” “Buffalo Gals,” “Exactly Like You,” and an instrumental, going out just like they came in — in a blaze of hot licks.