Morwenna Lasko & Jay Pun at Old Richmond Church (Richmond, OR – May 30, 2010)
Of all of the shows I have seen, this was an experience heretofore unduplicated:
I am the guy who, when he first hears about an upcoming event, says yeah, I’m going, but whose interest wanes the closer said event gets. I am the guy who buys tickets and then struggles to find people to give them to a couple of days before a show (I am astonished at how many people consider free too high a price for any but the tried and true). I am the guy full of future promises and empty of the fulfillment of same. So when the Richmond OR date showed up on Morwenna Lasko & Jay Pun’s schedule, I was careful to leave wiggle room among my statements. I was careful to preface my statements with “if” and “hopefully”, ready to bail at the slightest provocation or whim. I mean, I always want to go. I just seldom do.
But around noon on May 30th, 2010, I found myself loading up a bag full of treats, notebooks and plenty of CDs for a long drive into no man’s land— a section of Eastern Oregon never visited by myself and as far as I knew devoid of all but desert landscape, for it is on the High Desert and very possibly in the middle of nowhere. I had picked the CDs carefully, knowing that I would be a minimum of four hours on the road and in need of stimulation of some kind (besides coffee, anyway) and started the journey to the jazzy sounds of Gary Duncan’s Six-String Voodoo which had run its course by the time I rolled into Sisters, home of the Sisters Folk Festival and my favorite coffee spot, The Sisters Coffee Company. After a quick pit stop and with a large house coffee in hand, I popped Dave Gleason’s Midnight, California into the player and continued east. After the dense forests of the Cascades, the desert landscape was a welcome relief, the sky high and peppered with clouds and the view expansive. First, farms and cattle. Then, the occasional farm. Then— well, almost nothing. Nothing except beautiful landscape and good music. The miles piled up, Gleason gave way to Screaming Trees and their march toward Oblivion and The James Gang’s first album and if I hadn’t printed the Mapquest directions, I would now be toodling through Illinois or Indiana or maybe even Virginia, Lasko and Pun territory, but the map yelled “Stop!” and I stopped.
Well, I tried to. Thing is, Richmond wasn’t there! I mean, it was there on the map, but it wasn’t there. I crisscrossed the hills numerous times and even stopped to ask for directions, something against the grain of my mountain man persona, and the lady at the diner looked at me with both disdain and pity as she said, “Seven miles back up the road. Blue sign. Can’t miss it.” and I said, well, I did! Four hours there and another hour and a half searching had frustration itching to burst out but I headed back, looking at a gas gauge nearing the half-tank mark, wondering where I was going to find a gas station on a late Sunday night after this concert, if I found it, was scheduled to end. I went further than the diner lady had said, turned around and figured one more shot, then I have to head home. Out of nowhere, a sign that said “Music” popped out of nowhere next to a road which seemingly went nowhere. There were a few rundown buildings and a number of fir trees and lots of brush and little else. The map said 0.8 miles, so I drove. And I drove. Pavement gave way to gravel and gravel gave way to dirt and No Trespassing signs began to appear, at first friendly reminders and then quiet warnings which gave way to loud warnings. If I was going to get out alive, I thought, I’d best turn around, so I did. On the way out, another car was heading in. I stopped and it turned out that the couple in the car was also looking for the old church. We caravaned out and, surprise of surprises, there were cars to the left and an old crumbling building crowned with country folks’ versions of a bell tower. Lights were on and people were talking and laughing, but I swear to God, it hadn’t been there when I drove past before.
I parked, stumbled out of the car, gained my land legs and headed toward the church, ready to scream for Jody Foss’s head (Jody was the concertmaster) and almost knocked Jay Pun on his ass (unintentionally, I assure you… it was just taking awhile to get the feeling back in my legs) and right there in front of me, shutting a car door and looking every bit like the hippie ladies I had felt so much at home with in my youth, appeared a natural beauty with long, flowing hair and no makeup. No offense. I know makeup is there for a reason. I just haven’t quite figured out what that reason is. A look back at Pun confirmed that he, too, wore no makeup (you can never be sure these days) and my frustration vanished. We talked. I found Jody and we talked. Turned out that the County, in all its wisdom, had taken the road sign down a few days before and, well, those of us who had never been there were at the mercy of the gods.
More than a few who attended had been there before, it turned out. The posters which adorned the bare-butt rough-cut lumber walls turned out to be a who’s who of indie music, each having played the church in the past. Pictures of Peter Rowan and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and others looked back at me but none impressed me more than that of Idgy Vaughn. That, I thought, is deep indie. And on the inside I chuckled. Lasko & Pun are even deeper. Right now, that is.
There was warmth in that room, and only part of it was supplied by the huge wood stove on the other side of the half-wall. Some of these people were there for the music. Others were there for the social interaction, as well. One couple lived eight miles from anything except their nearest neighbor, one mile distant. Another came into “town” for supplies about once a month because the drive was long and on unimproved roads. In no time I realized that I was an outsider. I lived in the Willamette Valley, hours away. I was a rainbow trout amongst steelhead. But they accepted me. Good conversation was as easy as opening my mouth and the time spent before the concert was spent with both mouth and ears open.
When the time came, getting everyone seated was a matter of a few plucks on the bass guitar. Bruce Lawler’s bass, to be precise. Lawler is bass player for the opening act, a duo known as Just BS, a reference to the first letters of the first names of the duo which also includes Steve Gardner. They launch into a folk version of “Heard It Through the Grapevine,” a vocal struggle for Gardner who had not warmed up, and to say the least it was rough. With each successive song, though, the music smoothed out (“Tobacco Road,” “I’d Love to Change the World” (Gardner made mention of this as a politically incorrect tune— one of these days, I’ll have to actually listen to the lyrics), “The Last Time” (I would like to think this was inspired by Batdorf & Stanley’s fine All Wood and Stones album) and “Good Lovin’.” Had they warmed up just before the show, this would have been better (we talked about this at the end of the night), but the crowd was appreciative, nonetheless, and the music good. It is all part of the learning curve.
After a very short break for the attendees to visit the third tree on the left (or what Lasko later humorously referred to as ‘poppin’ a squat’), Pun began plugging in and tuning and Lasko followed. When they were satisfied, they planted the crowds’ backs to their chairs with a song referencing the ghosts of Scotland and Ireland, Pun stroking drone-like sounds of a bagpipe on his acoustic while Lasko flailed her way through the jig and reel fields on her violin. Short and sweet, “Coonhound” caught the crowd by surprise and the reaction was as much of a ‘whoa’ as it was an ‘hello’. “Bouncing Water” followed, a tune of plucking violin and guitar with tape loops and reverb and multiple tonal layers. Want something akin to dawg jazz? “Live Wire” was a statement on the complexity of duets, turned up an amp or two before it fell back to Earth.
“One Moore Farewell,” a tribute to LeRoi Moore, a fellow Charlottesville musician who passed away not too long ago, carried everyone away with haunting violin over a beautiful bedrock of acoustic guitar, upbeat but laid back. It is fitting tribute and was not lost on the audience.
You get the idea, I am sure. The music flowed on and there were many great moments, but the one which really caught my ear was a tune called “Atip Ouypron.” A few weeks previous, Terry Currier at the Music Millennium in Portland handed me a CD by one Lester Quitzau, a British Columbia musician, titled The Same Light. The music on that album snuck in through the back door in a manner of speaking, for it is nothing new and yet it is. The man is a master guitarist without a drop of ego and ends that album with a remake of Pete Seeger’s “To My Old Brown Earth” which stops me cold every time I hear it. When Jay Pun tiptoed into “Atip Ouypron,” I was stunned at the similarities in feel (and I mean that literally). When Morwenna Lasko layered her violin on top, I could barely breathe. Sometimes, I guess I take music too much to heart.
I’m not the only one, though. Pun and Lasko do, too. Throughout the set, their comments about their love of music and their gratitude that they are able to make it reinforced the aura of the evening. It was obvious that these people were not there just because there was nothing else to do, that they were there for the same reason we all were— for the music. Some in the audience had driven miles (in my case, well over 200). I’m sure that when they left, they felt justified in having done so. They gave the musicians a standing ovation at the end and it was not the kind of standing ovation you see at most concerts these days. It was a heartfelt appreciation of both the musicians and their music and it was most sincere. Of the 40+ who attended (and remember, there could have been cars still searching the hills for the church as the concert ended), I doubt that but a few had ever heard of Lasko and Pun and that even fewer had actually heard them. When they left, they were converts. Such is the power of the music, and the power of the music of Morwenna Lasko & Jay Pun.