Dave Rawlings sings sweet and country. His hat’s not as high as some but it’s perfectly clean and cream. He plays that 80-year-old guitar like it’s gonna take him away to another planet. At once caressing it, then tugging and working it round a solo to within an inch of its life.
When Gillian Welch sings, her straight, wide mouth hides the smooth and effortless sound that escapes it. There’s no confusing whose voice that is. She smiles frequently, at us, at Dave, enjoying herself and the music they’re making.
It’s Dave’s name on the bill, but on stage the two are equals. One wouldn’t be without the other.
Gillian jokes that it’s going to get hot and sweaty, which is just as well because that’s how they like it. For sure, the night is still and the old hall is an oven full of bodies.
The guitars are pretty high, the jeans straight and not-too-narrow, and the denim double. Americana for the clothes as well as the tunes. Long dresses brush ankles, all checks and laces up the front. Gillian hitches hers up to hoe-down along with us.
Sweet harmonies blend like honey and golden syrup warmed up on the stove. Country, folksy, bluegrass, twang. I’ve no idea what it’s called but I don’t really care. I feel like I’m in a movie, watching myself in the audience of the old hall. Their accents (they all live in Nashville these days) upset my sense of place, so I imagine that instead of surfer vans and nice hatchbacks, outside there are pickup trucks and red tractors.
Willie Watson is a character. Short, with a scrunched up face and raised eyebrows when he sings. Sounds wonderful. Even though the two stars don’t seem to need him, he makes himself indispensable by tying them together and keeping them riding high. When left on his own, he commands the audience like he’s done it since he was five.
The fresh-faced, rosy-cheeked American boy (of 29) on the double bass is Paul Kowert. He takes a song and a low baritone emerges from his body behind the big, shiny instrument. He twists and lifts his wooden partner around behind the others, finding the sweet spots where he can listen to the lead vocal and follow a string solo.
Brittany Haas is the girl on the fiddle. For a lass who’s not even 30, she’s got the thing by the balls and steals the show time after time. Who needs a voice when you can make strings sing and skip like she can.
Beside me Tim floats off to heaven. He’s seen the Promised Land, or rather heard it with his own ears, and he can hardly believe it.