Sunday, March 10, 2019

Blue Eyed Bettys redux

The first clue we had that something might be a little different was the electric keyboard sitting stage left.

That confused me for a moment as we were finding our seats. The Blue Eyed Bettys are, on most nights, a three-piece string band featuring Ben Mackel on guitar, Sarah Hund on fiddle (or is it violin? I guess it depends on how you play it: in my mind, it's a violin for classical music, but it's a fiddle when the catgut smolders. Sarah makes the catgut smolder), and Daniel Emond on banjo.

From left: Ben, Daniel, Sarah and Kroy. Blue eyes all...
 Then I remembered what Sarah told me a couple years ago: that as good as Daniel is on the banjo, he's unbelievable on the keyboards. So, OK, I'm ready.

The second clue we had was the upright bass laying on its side, stage right. I knew the Bettys used a bassist on occasion, and apparently, this was going to be one of those nights. Oh, boy. As it turned out, the bassist was somebody named Kroy Presley from Charlotte. And, as Sarah told me, he just happens to share – albeit distantly – a bit of DNA with some guy named Elvis. For real.

The third clue we had was that the intimate Muddy Creek Music Hall in Bethania was sold out for Friday night's show. I've never been to this venue before when it was sold out. Usually, the Bettys attract a comfortable following that allows for some elbow room, but this was different. They were going to play for a full house, including about a dozen or so Betty first-timers.

I've written about the Bettys before, but just for a refresher recall that all three are primarily stage actors based out of New York City and who met serendipitously while doing a theater production in Florida a while back. They essentially have a second home in the Piedmont, I think in part because Daniel is a graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. Also, Ben – a graduate of Salisbury's Catawba College – currently lives in Asheville, soaking up all the Blue Ridge inspiration that endlessly trickles down the mountain from that eclectic artist colony. Plus, he once was a resident actor at the Barter Theater in nearby Abingdon, VA., for eight years, so there's that.

Sarah is a force of nature unto herself, with a beautifully evocative and dynamic voice that can elicit chill bumps one moment and then tenderly caress the emotional heart nanoseconds later. She's remarkable.

As for Kim and myself, it had been two years since we last saw the Bettys perform and we just couldn't wait.

So when the music began, it was as if the universe had moved into perfect alignment. Their signature  harmonies were tight, their musicianship was mind-blowing, and their stage banter and audience repartee were both witty and charming. These guys are really quick on their feet. I didn't realize how much we missed them until they started performing.

The set list included an even mixture of self-written original tunes (some with hysterical lyrics) to familiar goodies like "Landslide," "Crayola Doesn't Make a Color for Your Eyes," "Ain't No Sunshine," and "I've Just Seen a Face."

They've been performing together now for about six or seven years (interrupted, as they are, by their other projects) and I'm thinking that, even so, the quality of their shows has reached a level that exceeds fine tuning. I don't know how they do it.

I just hope it doesn't take two more years before we see them again.

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