Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hot Rize in Ithaca

Well, this was just serendipity rearing its ugly head: Dave was graduating from Ithaca College on May 19th (Sunday) and Hot Rize, the greatest bluegrass band that's ever existed, was playing at the State Theatre in Ithaca on Friday night, May 17th.  So we got out there in plenty of time for a dinner at the Fine Line Bistro with family and friends and then took off the few blocks for the State on a fine Spring night.

We'd gotten tickets a few months before the show and at that point a great number of the best orchestra sets were taken, and so I opted for tickets in the second row of the balcony, center.  As it turns out, they probably never sold much beyond that, those of us who wanted to go had gotten tickets as soon as we could.  I couldn't see the orchestra well enough to count the empty seats, but probably over 90% of the balcony was a ghost town.  Our friend John bought a ticket at the box office and sat in the row behind us.

Oh well, that's the music business.  Hot Rize is apparently not the thrill they once were.  Tim's let it slip that they're working on a new record, and they played one number from it, but the band seemed interested only in playing the old Hot Rize songbook, singing the same old harmonies, and trading the same old licks.  I think these are the finest kind (to quote Red) and that, for example, O'Brien's and Forster's harmonies are some of the best ever and I could listen to them on a desert island ... but I could stand a few new tunes.

A local band, Cornerstone, opened and demonstrated what an intriguing musical art form bluegrass is.  In some runs they were extremely technically proficient and on some songs, especially the ones sung by Dee Specker, they showed some great vocal talent.  We were grooving and then they brought out Pete Wernick (an ex-Ithaca resident) and our jaws dropped open as we realized what a gap there is between "pretty good" and talents like Hot Rize.

I won't go far into describing the main act because they were exactly what we expected: High On a Mountain, Radio Boogie, Brian Sutton blowing us away with hot leads, Tim blowing us away with even hotter leads, Tom and Jerry, Empty Pocket Blues, Pete blowing us away with deceptively simple banjo runs, Nick looking so cool in his suit and permed hair, Don't Make Me Believe, Lamps Trimmed and Burning, and the same stuff we've seen many times.

Then this other band came out and played some of *their* standard stuff like Oh Mona, If You Ain't Loving You Ain't Living, and Always Late.  Then the first band came out and finished with the best, like Colleen Malone, Walk the Way the Wind Blows, and Shady Grove.  A quiet crowd but this is/was some of the most incredible music I've ever known ... and most of the people there seemed to feel the same way, nodding their heads slowly as we walked away and out into the college crowd night.

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