Saturday, August 29, 2009

Susie Glaze and the Hilonesome Band and Fur Dixon and Steve Werner - House Concert Review

I should know better, I admit it. I mean, I've been going to shows at Russ and Julie's for years now, many featuring artists with which I was totally unfamiliar, but I have ALWAYS enjoyed them all. But having recently been disappointed elsewhere by an act described as Appalachian, I saw that word in the description of this concert, and somehow I mentally filed this as a show I'd skip. And in the back of my mind was the fear that, reviewing my first show at Russ and Julie's house since I began this blog, I REALLY didn't want to take a chance of not liking the first act I reviewed at the first place I ever saw a house concert! But like I said, I really should have known better.

When we talked to Julie, at the Severin Browne show at Boney Mountain House Concerts the prior weekend (see my last review) , she asked if we were coming and I honestly told her I thought not, but then we talked a bit about the acts she was hosting and the fact that she only had about 30 reservations at that point and that got me thinking. I went home and fretted over it. And ultimately, I decided that Russ and Julie had long ago earned our trust and support, this blog was a newer, less important thing and que sera, sera. Once Becky concurred, I emailed Julie and we were going. I already knew I had nothing to worry about!

Well as soon as Susie Glaze and the Hilonesome Band took the stage, the thought of worries were a thousand miles away. First of all the room was PACKED, I should have known Russ and Julie's regulars would come through for them. And just the band's instrumentation, stand-up bass, dobro, mandolin, acoustic guitar and vocals let me know this band would swing. That's them in the bottom photo above. And from the first note of Susie's vocals I knew this wasn't going to be that reserved, Celtic sounding almost madrigal-sounding Appalachian music that nearly puts me to sleep. Susie describes their music as "Americana Folk Bluegrass Fusion Band" , and that's hard to argue with, I'll just tell you, this is music with twang and swing and a touch of snarl and bite. The true Americana music that acknowledges its darker roots along with that white European stuff. The real folk music.

The band kicked off the night with a tune called "One More Mile" , a rollicking bluegrass tune and followed it with "Maggie Bailey" another authentic-sounding up-tempo bluegrass rave up. Yes, no one would be putting me to sleep tonight! Not with this rocking band! Featuring Susie's husband Steve Rankin on mandolin and vocals, Fred Sanders on upright bass and vocals and the impressive songwriting talents of guitarist/dobro player/vocalist Rob Carlson, the band was tight instrumentally and Susie's voice is perfect for singing this country flavored folk music.

As their set continued, we were treated to some great individual picking by Steve and Rob and great vocal harmonies by all the guys. The songs covered a bit of stylistic ground while never straying from its roots music, old-time feel. Some of the highlights for me included "River Road" with Susie channeling Joan Baez at her best and Fred doing some really tasty bowed bass parts, "Rocking In Your Granddaddy's Chair" , described as a lullaby but swinging, and Rob Carlson's tribute to that thriving metropolis "Albuquerque" that reminded one of a Bob Wills swing tune or a Dan Hicks delicacy. The Appalachian-sounding stuff they did came mostly in a couple of tunes written by the legendary Jean Ritchie, mountain folk songs with political overtones that share more with the work of Woody Guthrie than with any Celtic tradition, certainly nothing for me to fear! And when Steve sang lead on a couple of songs by one of my favorite songwriters, Steve Earle, I wondered why I ever thought of skipping this show. This is a fresh sounding act doing lots of new original tunes yet still sounding traditional and old-timey. I definitely will try to see them again soon and I urge you to try to catch them also. Here's a link to their website:

That brought us to intermission, time to sample the appetizer/dessert potluck, mingle with the rest of the audience and grab a little fresh air in the backyard. Though we saw some of the usual faces at this show, there seemed to be many fans that were here to see these acts in particular. I was wondering how the next act would fare, following such a strong opening act.

When the break was over, Fur Dixon and Steve Werner took the stage, and I must admit, my first thought was "These people must have beaten up a couple cowboys and stole their clothes!" Looking every bit the young hipsters, like they should be wearing punk garb or at least rockabilly outfits, they had a dramatic if unusual appearance. Just Steve's shirt alone may have been worth the price of admission. Check out the picture above center. But as soon as they started making music, there was no doubt, that they were the real deal. With both playing acoustic guitars and singing, they kicked off their set with Steve's country antidote for worry, "The Road Outside My Door Says Let's Go" , followed by Fur's "Ventura County Line" , a love and cruising ballad, and I realized this night would continue in the countryish Americana style that opening act established.

Steve and Fur traded lead vocals as they ventured further into their original repertoire. Steve did the honors in "Homesick For The Highway Blues" , causing me to write this note , "when you invite the audience to yodel, you get what you deserve!". But it sure was fun! So was "Pearl and Swine" , Steve's humorous theme song for the duo. Fur examined a bit more poignant territory in "Travellers" and "Back Roads and Blue Skies" , her voice evoking the country giants like Emmy Lou and the Carters, without sounding contrived. They also covered some classic tunes, Steve Goodman's " City of New Orleans" made popular by Arlo, "Do Re Mi" by that other Guthrie, Woody, and when they played "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" , I realized this act is WAY more Western than Country and all the more appealing for it. And their quirky looks and humorous takes on life, make a beautiful, moving song like "Scars" all the more meaningful. Don't let the schtick fool you, this is no novelty act, even though they ARE quite novel.
When the night's fun concluded with Susie and her Steve, joining Fur and her Steve (see top picture) and the whole audience in a stirring rendition of Woody's "This Land Is Your Land" (our REAL National Anthem if I had my way!), I couldn't help but remember Julie telling me how much FUN this night would be! The two acts were a perfect co-billing. I know, I know, I should have known all along, mea culpa! But I'm sure glad I didn't miss this wonderful night!
Here's a link for Fur Dixon and Steve Werner :

and one for Russ and Julie's House Concerts if you missed it:

Russ and Julie's House Concert - Venue Review

If you had to pick one house concert series to visit in SoCal, whether as an audience member or as a performer, the answer is a "no-brainer". Without a doubt, nearly anyone in the know would tell you, go to Russ and Julie's House Concerts!

Its ironic that one of the last house concerts in our area that I am reviewing would be Russ and Julie's because, not only was their's the first home where we attended a house concert, but they are known in this area as the "Godparents" of the house concert movement. Russ and Julie Paris have been holding house concerts in their home in Oak Park, CA for almost 13 years! That figures out to having hosted over 130 concerts featuring almost 100 different acts! I believe it is the longest continually running house concert series in SoCal. Here is a link to their website:

Becky and I first found Russ and Julie's House Concerts back in March 2005 when an old acquaintance of ours from back in Conn. , Jeff Pevar, played there. We had seen the show listed on Jeff 's website, and, though we had never even heard of a house concert before, we decided to check it out. We've been regulars ever since, we only wish we had discovered them sooner!
The concerts are held at the Paris' lovely home in Oak Park, CA in the eastern end of Ventura County. The concert space is in their living room/dining room/great room with high ceilings and excellent acoustics. Check out the picture above of their stage area. They have a small PA system which is more than adequate to provide great sound in this size room. The room has track-type lighting hung unconventionally on the walls aimed at the stage area and this provides remarkably effective lighting for the performers. They generally have 60 or so chairs set up and with additional seating on their staircase which serves as somewhat of a balcony. With standing room, we have been there when they have had over 100 people in the room. While this kind of crowd makes for cozy togetherness we have never been uncomfortably crowded.

Here you will find most of the regular house concert features, the "donation" bowl at the front door (usually a $15 recommendation), mailing list sign ups, and of course, the potluck appetizer and dessert table. The hosts graciously provide coffee and soda and cups and usually the guests have put out a selection of wine to share. The crowd at Russ and Julie's can vary in make-up depending on the act, but there are usually a core group of "regulars" that we recognize from other visits. They also seem to attract a bit more young people than some of the other venues for whatever reason. I find this encouraging, as I always worry where the audiences of tomorrow are going to come from and I hate feeling like this great acoustic music is some kind of nostalgia trip for us aging baby boomers.

Russ and Julie also book the greatest variety of music compared to other house concerts in the area. In addition to the best singer/songwriter types we have seen country, jazz, rock, pop, Celtic and bluegrass music here. Many artists we have seen here were acts we already knew and were fans of. Over time, we have learned to trust Russ and Julie's taste explicitly and we have seen several acts we have never heard of much less heard before and we have NEVER seen a show we didn't enjoy a lot. Sure, some have been better than others but I have never felt disappointed in any music I've heard at their house. And because they have been doing this longer than everyone else and because of their involvement in other acoustic music organizations, they have the best acts clamoring to appear there. Some of the acts we have seen there include Wendy Waldman, Freebo, Jim Photoglo, John Batdorf, James Lee Stanley, emith, Kiki Ebsen, and many others. We really have been there a lot in the last four or five years!

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that in addition to hosting this wonderful concert series, Russ and Julie have been amazingly generous with their time, expertise and promotion, helping others get started in the house concert game, helping artists connect with new audiences and supporting these artists and venues with their attendance at many other concert venues. They are also quite active in the Far-WEST and Folk Alliance acoustic music organizations and, as part of their "day job" graphics business, Russ maintains websites for many other house concert presenters and for many musicians. On top of all this, they are two extremely friendly, outgoing and gracious people and wonderful hosts. I'm not only glad we found their concert series years ago, but also that they have come to be our friends. You can't have too much good music or too many good friends in your life!