Bill Miller – Spirits On The River (Asheville, NC)
Native American rocker Bill Miller once sang, in “River Of Time” (from 1995’s Raven In The Snow), “There are faces and places I hold sacred/Some are here with me today.” Those lyrics could’ve applied to his concert at Spirits On The River, a Native restaurant with an outdoor deck overlooking the Swannanoa River in this mountain city. Miller, taking note of familiar faces in the crowd — with only 70 tickets available, a sellout — clearly felt among family.
Wielding a custom cutaway Takamine, Miller kicked off the first of two 45-minute sets with “Ghostdance”. As befits its topic, the tune was aggressive and edgy, driven by percussive strums and the singer’s falsetto yelps. By contrast, “Tumbleweed”, co-written by Peter Rowan, was an easygoing, finger-picking travelogue. Miller see-sawed between styles, one minute unleashing a furious blues (“Blessing Wind”), the next crooning an elegiac ballad (“The Sun Is Gonna Rise”) in his Roy Orbison-esque tenor, and the next offering up a number for the creator (“Praises”) sung in both English and Menominee.
With no patron farther than 20 feet away from him, Miller spun between-song tales as casually as someone seated across the living room. He reflected upon a troubled childhood on a Wisconsin reservation, compared songwriting to bear hunting, and marveled at his hero Carlos Santana’s spirituality. He also did several compositions on cedar flute (in February, Miller won a Grammy for his Cedar Dream Songs album of Native flute songs). Light bursts of rain occasionally sprinkled the audience, and as if on cue, as Miller reached the final chorus of the last song (a cover of “Wild Horses”), the nighttime sky finally opened up completely. It failed to dampen, however, this uncommonly intimate experience.