Old Friends and Hometown Heroes Bring the Magic
Eddie From Ohio, and opener Pat McGee, celebrated their personal and professional histories with an audience of family, friends, and the dedicated fans known as “Ed Heads.” It was also a night of firsts, both for McGee and EFO.
Pat McGee started the party with, as he said, “The first song I ever played for Eddie,” the crowd pleaser, “Rebecca.” McGee was accompanied by Patrick McAloon on guitar and vocals, and Jonathan Williams on piano and vocals. The guitar work and three-part harmonies were crystal clear. McGee split his six-song set evenly between established favorites and new songs from his eponymous upcoming album, recorded with the help of The Section, the venerable LA-based unit who have graced some of the most famous albums of the last 50 years. The album will be released later in 2015, but was available at the show along with a copy of McGee’s set. It was the first time McGee has played an opening set at The Birchmere. His relationship with Eddie From Ohio stretches back over 20 years, though, and he took the gig after a call from EFO bassist Mike Clem. The new songs showed McGee’s continued maturation as a songwriter and performer and satisfaction with his role as a father of three.
Eddie From Ohio took the stage after a short break and proceeded to take the Birchmere faithful on a rollicking ride through their musical history. Robbie Schaefer, Julie Murphy Wells, Michael Clem, and Eddie Hartness had the audience in their hand from the jump and delivered on the palpable sense of expectation that hung in the January night air. Their sound was augmented by the addition of Jake Armerding on fiddle, mandolin and vocals. The audience was committed to the band from the first song and the enthusiasm seemed to feed EFO.
Throughout the evening they shared the backstory of many of the songs, and took several humorous pokes at their friend McGee. In fact, Schaefer and Clem could have a second career as a comedy duo, interjecting pointed asides and self-deprecating observations during the stellar two-hour set. All were in excellent voice and the fact that they tour on a more limited basis these days has not diminished EFO’s skills in the least.
The set list included audience favorites “Old Dominion,” “Three Fine Daughters of Farmer Brown,” “One Thousand Sarahs,” and “Number Six Driver.” There were many highlights in the 16-song set, several featuring Julie Murphy Wells. She was energetic and playful on “Quick,” which was followed by a moving rendition of the title track of EFO’s 2004 release, This is Me. But Wells’ shining moment came on “Baltimore,” the ballad of an Irish woman struggling to regain her emotional center. She infused the lyrics with a sense of loss and respect that gave the words an even deeper reflection of personal tragedy.
Schaefer and Clem each took turns on lead vocals, Schaefer including a couple of songs from his solo recordings and giving “Fly” a heartfelt voicing, the story of a child trying to find a quiet place to retain his sanity in the midst of his parents penchant for living out loud. Clem treated the audience to a new song, one that was co-written with his deceased uncle. The cautionary story about losing your best friend to alcohol and driving, Clem reworked a poem his uncle had written into song form, and thus the Birchmere was home to the first ever public performance of the stirring, “Last Flight of Kelly.” It was a rare moment of seriousness from Clem.
At the end of the set the audience gave EFO a standing ovation, after which they returned for a two song encore. For the final number they brought Pat McGee and friends back to the stage for a soaring cover of “Seven Bridges Road,” and their vocal harmonies were every bit as gorgeous as the Eagles. Eddie From Ohio finished off the first of a three night run at the Birchmere in peak form, and sent the audience out into the January night feeling a little warmer for the experience.