One of the most entertaining sets at Merlefest 2006 was Alison Brown Quartet with Joe Craven on fiddle on the Hillside stage on Sunday at noon. Alison is always a treasure and Joe added an interesting new dimension to her show.
The set was unique as Alison and Joe quite brilliantly played off of one another with some story telling. To introduce one of Alison's Celtic inspired compositions, she told the story of Holy St. Brendan and his Monks' 7 year journey from their Celtic home to Canada and back. As Alison told the story of their ocean voyage, Joe comically provided sound effects to emphasize the hardships. It was quite amusing. After the telling of the story, they proceeded to entertain us with Alison's The Wonderful Sea Voyage (of Holy St. Brendan), which was a soft and lingering melody. The piece is found on Alison's "Replay" CD.
The second story telling was of Joe's many years as a musician. It was tongue in cheek as Joe portrayed a very old man who had mentored some of the forefathers of Bluegrass. At one pointed he feigned falling asleep. Joe, as we learned at Merlefest, is a gifted multi-instrumentalist. He refers to himself as a percussionist but claims to study how stringed instruments translate to the percussion sound.
The set led off with The Magnificent Seven" off Alison's "Stolen Moments" CD. During the set, the group performed several other cuts from the CD including Carrowkeel, The Pirate Queen and McIntryre Heads Home. Joe's jazzier influences were showcased with D'Jango Reinhardt's Mambo Banjo During the tune, Joe laid down his fiddle and did an astounding percussion break on Bongos in concert with a brilliant display from the band's drummer.
Hanna, Alison and Gary West's, 3 year old charmer, joined her parents on stage to sing her signature tune California Here I Come. For such a young child, she has good control over her voice and carries the tune quite well. I once asked Alison during an interview, whether Hanna showed any signs of inheriting her parent's musical talents to which Alison replied "who knows at this age". It will be interesting to see how this beautiful young child develops her vocals and talents as she grows. Perhaps someday she will be the Alison Brown Quartet's vocalist.
The Hillside show was about an hour long but Alison and her band with Joe Craven left the stage with entire audience smiling.
For more information on the festival check out the Merlefest website.
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Photo's by Big Al by permission
Photos by Chris Curtis
If you want to get a flavor of the festival, you might consider one or more of these recordings.