At our age, Kim and I have date night on an irregular basis, usually determined by how exhausted we are from the rigors of the previous work week. Or even the previous eight hours. Depends.
That means sometimes we can go months without a date night because falling asleep in front of the television sounds (and sometimes is) more inviting.
But not this Saturday night. Underhill Rose, an uniquely talented female folk trio from artsy Asheville, was going to be at High Rock Outfitters, and we weren't going to miss this. We'd seen Underhill Rose perform on two previous occasions — once at HRO and once at the Barbecue Festival — and we considered ourselves to be loyal fans.
This particular night was the Lexington release party for their new CD, Something Real, which actually had been released universally the day before in Asheville. (I don't think I'm implying that Lexington therefore lives in its own universe when I put it this way, but I might be).
We knew the group had a dedicated following in Lexington, and in anticipating a large crowd at HRO, Kim and I decided to get there early to guarantee ourselves a seat in a venue that might hold 75 or so posteriors.
So we showed up at 7:45 p.m for the 9 p.m. concert. Ooops. When we walked through the door the place was empty except for the three women at the bar. "I guess we're early," I understated to Kim. The three women turned to us and smiled. Yep, you guessed it — they were Molly Rose Reed, Eleanor Underhill and Salley Williamson, Underhill Rose their very selves. "I guess we're real early," I said with my rapier-like wit and we engaged in a little small talk with them before they left to go backstage to get ready to perform.
Let me pause here for a moment to say this: the band members are exceptionally kind and courteous to their fans. Kim and I feel like we're on the ground floor of something big about to happen as we watch their development as artists. I can't help but feel they're on the cusp of greatness, or at least of making the big time. I hope so. Incredibly, as they take this uncertain journey, they all continue to hold bill-paying full time jobs. Holy cow.
They mostly write their own music, influenced as it is by the soaring sensibilities of the Appalachian Mountains that is in perfect confluence with the French Broad River as it carries their life experiences and life essentials downstream. It all shows up in their music.
But I have to tell you — I didn't see this coming. Showtime arrived to a less-than-full house, but that just made it better for the customers, if not for the performers. Underhill Rose had the complete attention of the audience, without the distracting murmurs of talker groups that usually cluster at the bar. It was like being on a sound stage, it was that wonderful.
And, oh my goodness, the music. Something pivotal has happened to the group since we last saw them, which was last October at the Barbecue Festival. Maybe it was while recording Something Real, I don't know. But the three-part vocal harmonies were tighter, crisper, than I remembered. Eleanor's banjo was precise, and Molly's guitar was gilt-edged. Because there is no percussion, Salley's upright bass becomes the group's integral driving force. They all seemed incredibly confident, both in their music and in themselves. I hope it's the confidence that can make a difference.
Now, one more thing. I can't get Bob Dylan's "Wagon Wheel" (now a hit by Darius Rucker) out of my head. About a week ago, I emailed Salley through Facebook (yes, we're friends, but it's a long story) asking if they do covers, and if so, could they do "Wagon Wheel" when they come to Lexington? The song has a North Carolina theme and I thought it would be a natural for their harmonies.
Near the end of their second set — they must have done at least 20-25 songs in two hours — they announced they were going to do a special request. Kim looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders, thinking it might be somebody else's special request. I still didn't believe it even through the familiar opening chords. Then they started singing. I shook my head. Eleanor smiled at me. So did Molly.
So did Kim. What a date night.
Underhill Rose - Wagon Wheel