Various Artists – Spread Your Wings Benefit – Neighborhood Theatre (Charlotte NC)
The fourth annual Spread Your Wings Benefit Concert for Breast Cancer was more of a regional affair than previous benefits, which have featured the likes of Alejandro Escovedo, Richard Buckner, Jim Lauderdale, Kevin Gordon, the Gourds and the Silos.
This year’s lineup included four North Carolina acts — Charlotte’s breakout keys-and-feedback trio the Houston Brothers, Mt. Holly’s David Childers & the Modern Don Juans; and Raleigh mainstays Tres Chicas and Kenny Roby — plus Nashville singer-songwriter Matthew Ryan. The benefit’s final tally was probably not as large as in past years, given the lack of a national headliner. Musically, however, it may have been the strongest yet.
The Houston Brothers (real-life brothers Matt and Justin Faircloth plus drummer Shawn Lynch) drew the opening slot, playing their hazy/heavy take on southern psychedelia to a crowd that was just beginning to roll into the venue. Formerly a duo (brother Matt would play guitar and bass pedals, Justin keys and snare), the Houstons have evolved with the addition of Lynch, adding a new, almost “free” quality to favorites such as “Lovin’ You is Such a Drag” and “Tranquility”.
Next up was Roby, playing with a band that included Justin Faircloth (with whom he recorded his upcoming disc), Mark O’Brien and Scott McCall of the Two Dollar Pistols, and David Kim of Les Dirt Clods. Playing a mix of new tracks along with nuggets from his back catalogue, Roby roused the crowd with frequent exhortation to stand up and clap, or at least clap, or for God’s sake just show some life out there, will ya?
A brief interlude followed as local bassist Mark Lynch donated nearly a foot-and-a-half of his famous mane to the human-hair-for-wigs Locks of Love program. Lynch then reappeared as a member of the Modern Don Juans backing David Childers, whose style — described by one local wag as “country rock meets Kerouac” — was a perfect match for the audience. Playing songs off his latest record, Room #23, as well as nuggets both old (“Weep And Moan”, “Muddy Bottom”) and new (“George Wallace”), Childers reaffirmed his status as the poet laureate of Charlotte-area rock.
Matthew Ryan was next, and while he was arguably the biggest name on the bill, his performance failed to rouse the crowd much past polite laughter. With most of the other acts played a brand of energetic honk, Ryan’s melodic songcraft — more Wainwright than Waylon — went down easy enough; judging from the beer lines, perhaps too easy, despite his impassioned takes on songs from his latest disc, Regret Over The Wires.
Finally it was the ladies’ turn. Tres Chicas — Lynn Blakey, Tonya Lamm and Caitlin Cary — took a few minutes toward the end of Ryan’s performance to do a little impromptu vocalizing in the venue’s gravel parking lot, alternating scales with gospel runs and Halloween ghost noises. After taking the stage, they ran through much of the material on their recent debut disc Sweetwater, including covers of George Jones’ “Take The Devil Out Of Me” and Loretta Lynn’s “Deep As Your Pocket”.
After it was all over, organizer Bob Graham (who started the annual event in 2001 with cancer survivor Missi Ivie) mentioned that there is interest in public television coverage for the festival next year, which would aid the benefit’s attempt to spread its wings and add a few more “name” performers. No matter. Those in attendance witnessed a wonderful night of music, with all the proceeds going to an equally wonderful cause.