Come On All You Asheville Boys: Gillian Welch & David Rawlings at the Orange Peel, August 5, 2011
It was a hot and humid day in Asheville, the streets were full, new construction seemingly everywhere and the new happening tapas bar in town — Curate — was gleaming with genuines and pretenders with a waitress who was happy to have moved there from D.C. The only way we got seated — at the bar — was because we’d be out before prime time, by the time the Orange Peel doors opened.
The line started forming by 5 PM, two blocks long by 6:30 and while the front five rows of standing area filled quickly, the remainder of the venue was rather slow to become full. There was no hurry, a constant stream of people even after showtime, but when it filled it was packed. The only way to maneuver around the sold out show was on the outer edges and it was hard even then.
I had seen Gillian Welch and David Rawlings three dozen times during the past 15 years, but not during the past three years and my companion had never seen them. We were primed.
We had, of course, read the extremely positive reviews of the performances up to that point, listened to the Fresh Air show, watched the Newport webcast and, of course, listening many times to “The Harrow & The Harvest.” I will not belabor Gil and Dave’s significance, their uniqueness and how crucial their music is — if you are reading this, you already are among the converted.
The thing that strikes you about Asheville — well, after the gorgeous mountains — is the friendliness of the people. Not just at the Orange Peel, but everywhere we went, people said hello and thank you, held open doors, etc. I say this even though I am generally a friendly guy and come from a friendly place. Before the performance I chatted with various audience members. While there were some first timers, most were hard core. It was perhaps the most diverse audience I have ever encountered — even more so than their various New York appearances over the years. One memorable performance at the Bowery Ballroom I was the guest of the producer of MTV’s “Pimp My Ride’ who had come in just for the show.
When Gil and Dave took the stage to a thunderous applause I did not know how much this audience had to give over the next three hours and how animated Gil and Dave would be. Normally, they do two encores, three if the audience is especially giving. But that night they did five. The only thing I can compare it to is the last performance some years back after a very rewarding UK tour where they came out with lyric sheet in hand for a final encore of “I Dream a Highway.”
The Asheville performance was that moving. They worked in nine of the ten songs from the new album in their sets, with Dave sounding more assured, relaxed and open in his two lead vocals. Together, their vocals were even more resonate adding an extra layer to their lyrics already so full of mystery. And, as you may have already supposed, the house went crazy when they sang “Hard Times.” And, according to Gil, Portland, Oregon also loves those two lines: “Come on all you Asheville boys/ Turn up your old time noise.”
Contrary to what many mainstreamers — even NPR’s Sunday Edition — who find their music “slow” I find the songs pass all too quickly. They are worlds unto themselves, ones you get lost in, having their own realities and then you find yourself popping up on some other side of the world. Some other part of yourself you never knew was there.
While certainly contemplative by nature and often inwardly focused, I find their music teeming with energy with bright spots of pristine sunlight, making the darkness more discernible. Like the lines in “Silver Dagger”: “The great destroyer sleeps in every man/Here comes my baby, here comes my man/With a silver dagger in his hand.”
And not like, say, the moaning response of a friend’s six year old son who, when we put on their albums, “Oh, no, not the woman who puts you to sleep.”
After the performance we closed down Curate, and upon leaving a young woman whom I had seen at the Peel gave me a wink. A soft, shared way of extending a special evening.
The next morning Gil and Dave packed their van and headed south to Atlanta where Miss Ohio lived out her fantasy. We, on the other hand, after a late breakfast of country ham and biscuits went east, dreaming all the way to the heart of Saturday in Saxapahaw.
All Photos By Amos Perrine, The Orange Peel, August 5, 2011, with the kind permission of Gillian Welch & David Rawlings.