Sunday, November 10, 2013

Underhill Rose redux

Ten days ago I received an email from The Dispatch telling me that I had some postage from Underhill Rose.

What? C'mon. I'd retired from The Dispatch seven years ago. How could Underhill Rose even locate me, much less send me mail? More curiously, why would they even attempt to find me?

"Our publicist looked it up," said Eleanor Underhill, one third of the trio from Asheville that performs mostly their own originally composed Americana, with Eleanor on the banjo and harmonica, Molly Rose on the guitar and Salley Williamson on the upright bass.

Inside the packet was a CD release of their brand-new holiday single "One Time a Year." Also included was a Christmas card with a homey picture of the girls in grandma-ish holiday sweaters, and inside the card was a hand-written note addressed to "Bruce and Kim" thanking us for our support.

To be remembered like that is astounding enough, but it gets better. Kim and I were already looking forward to their performance at High Rock Outfitters on Saturday, but a few days ago I got a phone call from my friend Lee Jessup, reminding me of the annual pig pickin' coming up in Gene Klump's backwoods lot on the same day.

"Are you coming?" asked Lee. Well, of course I was. I'm a retired sports writer. We never turn down free food.

"By the way," said Lee, "we booked a little entertainment this year. Underhill Rose will be there."

I thought I heard him say Underhill Rose was going to be there.

"What? What?" I croaked. "You're kidding, right?"

"Nope," said Lee. "Will you and Kim be there?"

"Of course we will. I've got to go now, Lee. I'm about to pee in my pants. Bye."

This was one of the most anticipated Saturdays of my life. The weather broke cold but sunny. We got there a few minutes before the girls did, and when they arrived in their SUV packed to overflowing with equipment, I offered to help lug stuff. So I was given the assignment of carrying Molly's guitar to the porch of a little bungalow where they were going to perform.

This means now I'm not only a groupie, but a roadie as well.

Within minutes, they were performing in the fading November sunlight.

Molly, Salley and Eleanor give us a sample of what music is like in heaven.
Pause for interlude: This whole scene is oddly remarkable and serenely surreal. Underhill Rose released their "Something Real" CD in June where it eventually peaked at No. 18 in the Americana Music Association chart (a chart that includes the likes of Willie Nelson, John Fogerty, Mavis Staples, Paul McCartney and many other recognizable artists. It's still in the top 100 on the charts as we speak, where it has been for 23 straight weeks). And now they were performing in Gene Klump's corn field.

They played until the sun went down and it got cold enough to hurt your fingers strumming string instruments. They joined the circle of friends at the toasty campfire, where they enjoyed barbecue, desserts and conversation.

I asked Salley if the three of them still have fulltime jobs, and they do. She and Eleanor are certified teachers, and Molly works for a health supplement outfit. They perform mostly on weekends, ("We're still weekend warriors," said Salley) traveling to gigs across the southeast.

"When do you practice?"

"We practice every Wednesday," said Salley. "We just go to one of our houses and get together."

Oh my gosh. "How do you do it?" I asked, marveling at the ridiculous schedule they keep.

"I don't know," she said, and I believe her. They're just young, I guess.

A little while later, the trio was at High Rock Outfitters for another performance. This time they were basking in a warm, cozy ambiance in front of about 50 of their dedicated fans. It was also their first ever live performance of "One Time a Year."

Pause for interlude: I know I keep saying they're getting better and better each time we see them, but it's no stretch. Their harmonies, for which they are drawing critical acclaim, seem to be tighter and more precise than ever. They really, really appeared to be relaxed on stage, where they had an instantly comfortable rapport with the audience. They say High Rock Outfitters is one of their all-time favorite venues, and it shows.

They performed for nearly two hours, then afterward mingled with the patrons. They repeated only a handful of songs from earlier in the day, indicating their songbook of covers and originals is extensive and thorough.

My own pause for interlude: Kim and I are convinced that Molly, Salley and Eleanor are the genuine article. They are not only musically talented and modelishly attractive, but I also believe them to be sincere and dedicated to their craft and honest to their fans and to themselves.

I didn't have any real requests for them this time, and yet, I still have one request of them — please, please, please never change who you are.

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