Hull's set was short and sweet, the band hurried through several tracks from her just-released record. Her longtime guitarist, Clay Hess, was as serious and tone-true as ever, and Jacob Eller on bass and Christian Ward on fiddle did their bit. The surprise was Barry Bales (who co-produced the new record) countering Hull with some highly tasty banjo.
Kathy Mattea then came on and seriously ripped it up, complimented by some incredibly tight performances from her guitarist, the Berklee professor involved (on banjo and turntables), and a panoply of Berklee students: a 6-person gospel choir, a bassist and drummer who could make anything rock (the drummer had everything in his kit from a washboard to a thumpy-box he sat on), a tall, willowy saxophonist who alternated between baritone and alto, a vocal accompanist who sang the male tenor parts and filled in on mandolin, a keyboardist who was arguably better on piano than on organ (though it was a tough call), another keyboardist who was probably better on organ but who was best when he was conducting the 16-seat string orchestra in his own arrangements(!!!!!!!), and the throw-in of the fantastic Sierra Hull on mandolin. In other words, you could get a serious crick in your neck trying to watch everything going on on stage.
They opened with a new song from (Berklee alumnae) Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, did the Mattea songbook including The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore, Come From the Heart, The Battle Hymn of Love, and Mary Did You Know?, interspersed that with some tunes that showcased the virtuosity and talent on stage such as a funk/blues cover of Untold Stories, a straight-ahead gospel cover of Wade In the Water, a reggae cover of Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses, and a classic, not-a-dry-eye-in-the-house cover of Where've You Been. For a cap-off, Mattea took her strong alto voice to Gimme Shelter, taking full advantage of having a fucking over-the-top good choir behind her as well as a rhythm section to die for.
Kathy had a great time ... she was absolutely beaming ... and so did we all. It was hard to believe that the hall was only a quarter full (if that). People need to get out more!