2009 The Charleston Gazette: Mountain Stage Review

2009 The Charleston Gazette Review: Brett Dennen, Eric Bibb, Vagabond Opera & Sister Hazel at Mountain Stage

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2009 The Charleston Gazette Review: Brett Dennen, Eric Bibb, Vagabond Opera & Sister Hazel at Mountain Stage
By: V.C. McCabe

The circus came to town Sunday night in the form of Mountain Stage’s opening act, Vagabond Opera. The concert also featured Madison Violet, Eric Bibb, Brett Dennen, and Sister Hazel, but it was the dazzling Vagabond Opera who stole the show.

Vagabond Opera’s new album, “The Zeitgeist Beckons,” blends kooky cabaret with elements of opera, Eastern European folk, jazz, swing, and klezmer music. The cabaret style was especially apparent in “Welcome to the Opera,” which introduced the musicians, showcased their eclectic stylistic madness, and finished with a sample of Verdi‚Äôs “Traviata.”

Led by operatic tenor and accordion player Eric Stern, the six-piece Portland ensemble was decked out in colorful costumes fit for Vaudeville. Their set was theatrical, fun, and extremely entertaining. They sang, they danced, they joked, they spanked, and had the audience singing and clapping along the way.

Scottish-Canadian duo Madison Violet followed with tunes from their new album “No Fool for Trying.” Their music blends the soft harmonies of traditional and Appalachian folk with modern Americana instrumentation. “The Ransom” had the sweet, high lonesome croon of Emmylou Harris, and “The Small of My Heart” was a pretty little love song.

The son of folk singer Leon Bibb and nephew of Modern Jazz Quartet’s John Lewis, Eric Bibb truly comes from a musical background and has played steel guitar since the age of seven. His family counted legendary folk artists Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Odetta among their friends, and Bibb himself recorded with Odetta, Mavis Staples, and Taj Mahal. He also opened for Ray Charles on tour.

Bibb played several songs from his upcoming album, “Booker’s Guitar.” His music is a mix of gospel-influenced blues and soulful folk, and he handles his guitar like a classic blues musician. The highlight of his set was a cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” which he sang accompanied only by a harmonica player.

Singer-songwriter Brett Dennen played songs from his latest release, “Hope for the Hopeless,” which spices up his signature pop-folk acoustics with Afro-Caribbean rhythms. Dennen was such a hit with the crowd that he was granted an encore.

I liked alt-rockers Sister Hazel well enough in the 1990s, but their set was my least favorite of the night. I don’t know if the lead singer was sick or if his voice is simply not equipped to compete with the extra large amplifiers they brought along, but his voice cracked and all but disappeared when he attempted the high notes of their hits “Your Winter” and “All For You.” While the majority of the audience responded favorably to the band, several others left before they finished.

All of the artists returned to the stage for a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Lodi,” which served as the finale to what was one of the more eclectic Mountain Stage concerts.

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