scott, katy, willard
Katy played at the Front Porch Gallery in Woodlawn tonight with Scott Freeman and Willard Gayheart. The three of them are half their band of the first part of the 2000s, Alternate Roots. They made 4 fine albums, Tales of Love and Sorrow, Another Dirt Road, Branching Out and Planted in Tradition. Every album was a fine collection of songs, each one a gem of musicianship and music. These people are not shy about making music, either. When they get together, it's music that happens, not a likeness, but Thereal McCoy. Katy is one of the better bluegrass singers in our region, along with Scott and Willard, who hold their own vocally as well as Katy, such that when the three of them are singing and harmonizing together, bluegrass or country, whichever they're singing, it is music of the Central Blue Ridge as it's played today.
Katy sang mostly songs from their Alternate Roots years together. For me, tonight's show was something on the order of Alternate Roots Unplugged, though AR was never plugged. Unplugged, because the band performed sitting down, casual, Doc Watson style. Perhaps what I'm getting at is they took their bluegrass songs and folked them. I've heard all their albums multiple times, played them on the radio show multiple times, went to 14 concerts, never tire of hearing Alternate Roots music and never will. Their music is the kind you can listen to all your life and never tire of them, even if it's an exceptionally long life. They'll keep you grooving at 100.
I feel fortunate and privileged to have had the opportunity to know about the band. I could easily have missed them. I believe it was the divine hand that set me in the band's orbit. I never hesitate to tell them AR is my favorite band, because I mean it. The musicians are true to the tradition and jazz the tradition as Bill Monroe did, but in their own style of jazzing the old mountain songs and composing new ones in their own way of bluegrass that is also not bluegrass. All the musicians in the band were among the better ones in the region, among the better ones all over the nation, a band of musicians who make music their art form.
Katy's voice is clear as a wind chime. She portrays feeling through her voice, too. She doesn't need to squirm like Madonna to express the emotion in the song. Like Sara Carter, she carries the emotion in her voice. She's used to singing with Scott country duet style and harmonizing. She is used to singing with Willard. For the three of them, it was a memory of good times. They took turns singing lead. Katy told me before the show she'd been through chemo and came through it. She's apparently well now and shows no sign of having once been beat down by such an ordeal. She's a different Katy now from the Katy before, wiser. I felt an impulse to hug her for what she'd gone through, but inhibited it with hesitation to put on a drama when heart-felt words and eye contact are enough. It didn't hurt her singing any. Surely it did for a time, but that time is past.
Scott spotted a musician in the crowd in the second half of the show, Billy C Smith, bass player with JD Higgins country band, and with David Johnson in Wilkes. Scott found an acoustic/electric bass, plugged it in and asked Billy C Smith to come up and join them. He played bass through the rest of the show. He sang a Merle Haggard song, Today I Started Loving You Again. It was a good worded song. Then Willard sang Merle Haggard's Mama Tried, a song Willard sang with Alternate Roots on their 4th album, Planted In Tradition. Toward the end of the show tonight, Katy sang the John Prine song, Hello In There, from AR's first album, Tales of Love and Sorrow. She sings it right. The video camera quit recording near the end of the song. Frustration. I call upon the comfort of reminding myself that shit happens. Get over it and go on. It was toward the end of the show anyway, and my arms were giving out from holding the camera up high over the heads of the audience, standing all the way at the back. It sounds like an effort, but the act itself is effortless. It just starts becoming intensely uncomfortable after an hour and a half. The last half hour I'm mostly sitting down and resting my arms.
Everyone was happy to see Katy out and singing again. Scott and Willard knew of her situation. She's been singing publicly again, getting the feel of it again after her mind has been thoroughly blown. It felt good to see her doing so well, holding up so well. Playing guitar and singing for two hours takes some physical stamina. She sang beautifully right up to the end. She made the audience happy. Everyone loved her singing. Everyone loved the music. It's become a crowd of mostly people who return every week now. Like after a rock concert, everyone has a face lit up with the joy in enjoyment. Standing at the back, I see the people in the audience stand up and turn around. The faces I see are happy they made the effort to get in the car to go hear what Scott and Willard were presenting tonight. I, a tshirt and ballcap wearing fan of Alternate Roots, had enjoyment supreme seeing/hearing Katy with Scott and Willard again.