For as long as I’ve known her, my friend and co-worker, Jane Lee, has been a mandolin player. Every Thursday, she’d come to work with her mandolin case, prepped for her lesson at the end of the day. So when Jane mentioned her class was having a recital, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to witness something that was so important to her – and checking out a new venue was a bonus! When I walked into Jalopy Theatre and School of Music, the first thing that caught my attention was the wall of stringed instruments. Right after that? The wall of vinyl records. This beautifully small, church basement/grade-school-kind-of-theatre had stolen my heart within minutes.
The afternoon offered a platform for Michael Daves‘ students to showcase pieces they’d been working on for an audience of family and friends. Michael Daves also acted as the guitar accompanist for all of the relatively new performers. With songs like “Walls of Time,” “Turtle Dove Done Drooped His Wings” and “Rocky Road Blues,” the blues and bluegrass spirit was definitely in the room. I think a special moment for me was when Abigail Nesbitt performed “Bury Me Beneath the Willow Tree.” Although the lyrics are of strained unrequited love, the tune of this song reminded me of an old school gospel song, “Victory in Jesus,” and I instantly reverted back to the “Sunday church” version of Rachel.
If you’ve read any of our other Crushing Vinyl posts, you might know that I like to choose a tiny thing to fixate on every now and them… This time it was the songs the students chose. I’m not sure if this was a guided effort, but bands of brothers (is this a pun?) were obvious class favorites. From the Punch Brothers to the Monroe and then Stanley Brothers, we heard both original and covered versions of “Down Along the Dixie Line,” “Angel Band” and “New River Train.” As a folk music and heartbreakingly-love-struck lyric lover, these bluegrass songs were not only entertaining but executed and performed in a way that made me even more interested in a genre of music that I already love. Maybe it was the way that Michael Daves harmonized with each performer or the Midwesterner in me that was entirely overwhelmed and joyed at the sound of a banjo, cello, fiddle and mandolin – but I found myself more and more interested in the life, songwriting and composition styles of bluegrass musicians.
At one point Jane Lee told the crowd, “the more you drink, the better we sound.” And boy was she wrong! The enjoyment and fulfillment each student and groups of performers displayed was what made the afternoon. The excitement to perform as well as the gathering of many other bluegrass loving souls totally overshadowed any doubts or fears the students might have had about performing. I’m not sure if they’re told at the beginning of their lessons about a future performance, or even how early they find out that at said performance they’d be singing too. But with confidence and, albeit nervous, ease the artists in training put on a fantastic show! Major kudos.
RCS’ takeaway: Honestly, Brooklyn. I love you (this is a lie)–but everything is just so far away. My only complaint for the day was that Jalopy was a bit far from the train. If I didn’t drive or was alone for an evening show, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t catch me in these streets. That being said, the buzz of joy in the theater was unforgettable and so were the performances. I need to rally a group of folks to check out a full live bluegrass performance in NYC very, very soon.