Friday, September 28, 2012
The Oak + The Ax, Biddeford, Maine
I suspect this is true for most people who work Monday through Friday, but Fridays are often tough for me, and that seems to be the night that a lot of fun things happen on. I’d committed to seeing Joe Fletcher at the first night of The Oak + The Ax Fest soon after I saw him at Newport Folk Festival. I’ve always wanted to see brown bird, so was excited that they were playing the same night. They are from the same state of Rhode Island, after all. Maybe they carpooled.
I stayed after school until 6pm coordinating Mt. Ararat Class of 2016’s spirit wall decorating for the upcoming spirit week (I’m their class advisor). I called my college friend Shaun afterwards to see if he was in town, and we grabbed Indian food in Brunswick in the pouring rain before I took off for Biddeford. I may have accidentally had my first taste of lamb in my life in a samosa that I thought was vegetarian. I will be going to the other Indian food place in Brunswick from now on (I’d tried to go there in the first place, but they were packed). Boo. Sorry, lambs.
I bumped into Joe Fletcher outside the venue and said a quick hello. I made it inside The Oak + The Ax just as The Milkman’s Union was wrapping up their set. I found a random seat against the wall in the front of the room next to the stage and decided to hunker down there for the back-to-back Joe Fletcher/brown bird sets.
I admit that I’m drawn to Joe because he’s good to look at, but I also think he has musical talent and showmanship. His Americana music (I want to call it rockabilly, but his Facebook page disputes this, so.. . ) is not quite my thing, but I think he’s great anyhow. I especially love his deep, raspy voice. Joe’s solo EP, “You’ve Got the Wrong Man” just came out, and I really like his last album with his full band, The Wrong Reasons—“White Lighter.” A Joe Fletcher super fan has a lot of information about him as well as videos here.
Joe played nearly all of his set with David and MorganEve from brown bird. They seem like old friends. Joe played many of the songs I really liked during his Newport Folk Festival set—“Florence, AL,” “Every Heartbroken Man,” “Flat Tire,” “Drunk & Single,” and ended the night with “Too Many Doors.” There’s a song that I don’t know the name of that is a rambunctious sing along. We gladly belted out the chorus when asked—“I never would have gotten on the boat if I’d known/That it was going to take me home.” Joe puts on a good show—he was gracious and had a lot of kind things to say about The Oak + The Ax and their efforts to bring good music to southern Maine, too.
brown bird took the tiny stage and MorganEve Swain set up her upright bass and violin stand while David Lamb tuned his guitar and set up his kick drum. I thought their music was very compatible with Joe’s and they talked about touring and recording together over the years. I was impressed with the power of David’s voice and his ability to sing, play guitar, and stomp on his kick drum (sometimes with both feet) while not flubbing up the lyrics. Practice makes perfect, I guess.
David told us that he used to live directly across the street from The Oak + The Ax, and joked that he had a bottle of Jack Daniels in his window just like everyone else on Main Street. I was surprised by what I picked up as Middle Eastern influences in their solidly country/folk sound. I thought it really added something unique to their music. I loved the variation in the tempo on “By the Reins.” Jeremy and Jerusha Robinson, both former members of brown bird, joined David and MorganEve on it on accordion and cello, respectively. I loved “Fingers to the Bone” with David on banjo. I really enjoyed “Thunder & Lightening.” The lyrics are fascinating—“ain’t nowhere left for the good to go/No truth in a world full of lies/Our unforgiving fettered foes fumbling stumble around/Gather all their greed to go back to their hole in the ground/To wash their hands of all the blood begged borrowed and stole/To keep a good man down.” Here’s a recording of their set at 2011’s Newport Folk Festival so you can get a taste of what brown bird has to offer.
One of the non-musical highlights of bb’s set was their friend Wesley Hartley (from Wesley Hartley & The Traveling Trees) who danced up a storm. I’ve almost never seen moves like that. Wes and his band were going to play on Sunday, the last day of The Oak + The Ax Fest. The weekend was a success, and I hope it means that there will continue to be great shows in Biddeford. It’s incredible that two artists who played at The Newport Folk Festival are just as pleased to play in such a teeny, intimate space. It’s really a treat to get to see bands there.
I think “Bilgewater” (I really recommend you check out that Kitchen Sessions video) was my favorite bb song that night. I liked the haunting, chorus—“in spite of all the wherewithal/to fight it all I will face it all/in spite of all the wherewithal/to fight it all I’ll embrace it all” and the heavy, thoughtful verses—“when everyday’s like a war between the will to go on/and a wish that the world would spiral into the sun/Turn your head toward the storm that’s surely coming along/If the sun was always shining and our load always light/we’d be shaking like a leaf with every God given night/and we’d break under the weight of any pressure/that was ever applied.” They sang it in a round with Jerusha and Joshua, and it was powerful. You can listen to four of five of brown bird’s albums here.
brown bird wrapped up their set with a great country song, “Bottom of the Bottle,” and then “Cast No Shadow.” We asked for one last song and the Robinsons joined David and MorganEve for “Mabel Grey” that had a “la da da” sing along moment so we could end the night singing together.
What a treat to see both bands in such a tiny venue.