I became a band groupie.
My wife and I have been following Underhill Rose, a remarkably talented female Americana trio out of Asheville, since 2011.
Coincidentally, that was the year Molly Rose Reed and Eleanor Underhill — the group's founders — became a trio when they added Salley Williamson to the mix. Salley brought her harmonious third voice to the band, along with her upright bass named "Pearl", and bingo, the girls were blazing new horizons.
They made beautiful music together, what with Molly on guitar, Eleanor on banjo and harmonica (Sometimes at the same time. I still don't know how she does that) and Salley providing a steady and reliable bass line.
|From left: Molly, Kim, myself, Eleanor and Salley. Sigh...|
It was great times and we thought it would last forever.
But unless you are the Rolling Stones, nothing lasts forever. I knew that. Life steps in. Touring is difficult, the hours are insufferable. In addition to playing in a band, Salley is also the development and communications manager for Open Hearts Arts Center for differently-abled adults in Asheville. She also runs an active farm, raising sheep and hogs, so clearly her plate is overflowing. How she managed to play in a traveling band for six years is actually pretty mind-boggling when you think about it.
So I shouldn't have been surprised when Underhill Rose announced about a week or so ago that Salley was leaving. Their show Friday night at the acoustically perfect Muddy Creek Music Hall in Winston-Salem would be Salley's last with the band. Bring Kleenex.
Nothing was going to keep Kim and myself from this concert. The girls played for two hours without a set break, effortlessly gliding from one tune to the next, stopping only to tell stories about Salley and what she meant to the team. Just before the encore, I handed Salley a long-stem red rose from Kim and myself in gratitude for the six years of joy she brought to us. I hope we were representing all of her fans.
There's one other thing to note here. About two thirds of the way through the show, the girls put down their instruments, stepped up to their mics, and sang the old blues ballad "Trouble in Mind" strictly a cappella, except for snapping their fingers to the downbeat (which also got the audience involved). I'd been wanting to hear them sing something a cappella for years simply because their hallmark harmonies are so gorgeous. And indeed, I felt like I was standing at the gates of heaven as they sang. Angels, maybe.
For the encore, they performed "Something Real," but they did it unplugged. No amps. No monitors. No soundboard. It was like sitting around the campfire. What an awesome moment. I can only hope they incorporate some of this experience in future shows for their fans to enjoy as we did that night.
It also occurred to me this would be the last time we'd hear three-part harmony like this for a while. It's not like Molly and Eleanor are putting an ad in the paper looking for an upright bassist. Underhill Rose performed as a duo two years before Salley joined, and now Molly and Eleanor will go back to their roots for the foreseeable future.
In the meantime, we'll wish Salley all the best. She gave depth and breadth to the group's sound, and we'll miss her.
Where's my Kleenex?