|Charlie Daniels Band, |
Davisson Brothers Band
& Truck Stop Troubadours
at the Indian Ranch,
Webster, Mass. (11 September 2011)
On this special day of remembrance, what could be more patriotic than going to a Charlie Daniels Band concert?
Indian Ranch is a campground that sits at the edge of Lake Webster, or as the natives called it, Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. Folklore dictates that the name of the 1,200-acre lake means, "You fish on your side, I fish on my side, and nobody fishes in the middle." Gazetteers claim it to be the longest geographic name on the planet. In addition to access to fishing and boating, the campground provides a smallish concert venue surrounded by tall pines. The property exudes a casual and laid-back atmosphere, hosting mostly country acts on summer weekends. Some folks consider it to be "Nashville North."
The several thousand people in the audience were generally quite merry on this bright and sunny afternoon. Preferred dress included Harley-Davidson shirts, cowboy hats, commemorative 9/11 gear or anything that happened to be red, white and blue. Military personnel and veterans were informally honored guests. Flags were flying. A lot of hand-shaking and back-slapping were in order.
Before the music even started, a life-sized statue of Charlie Daniels could be seen perched on the right-hand edge of the stage. Indian Ranch has a special relationship with the fiddler. In 2010, the owners commissioned a woodcarver to create the statue, marking the 20th straight year that Charlie and his band performed here. I was told by witnesses that the music legend wept when it was unveiled a year ago. This stationary blond-haired Charlie with his white 10-gallon hat kept watch on our side of the amphitheatre for the duration, ever poised with his bow on his fiddle.
The entertainment began with an offshoot of the Truck Stop Troubadours, a Massachusetts-based band. The guitar duo of Brian Chicoine and his friend Bobby (I didn't catch his last name) put us in the right mood with some country covers and one original song. They started off with Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried," Dwight Yoakam's "It Won't Hurt" and "Wagon Wheel" by Old Crow Medicine Show. Next up was Chicoine's original tribute to his rural roots, "My Brother's Farm." They wrapped up their 20-minute assignment with Waylon Jennings' "Good Hearted Woman" and another Merle Haggard tune, "Sing Me Back Home." The last one was dedicated to the memorial 9/11 spirit of the day.
Between acts, local favorite Tim Charron (who originally hails from Rhode Island) got up on stage and played and sang the National Anthem. The crowd was already so pumped up on patriotism that it rewarded his rather mediocre version with cheers and wild applause. (Sorry, Tim, but it had to be said.)
I'd like to take this opportunity to issue some advice to any guitar player who attempts this tough task. Remember that "The Star-Spangled Banner" was not written for a six-stringed instrument. It doesn't follow any traditional or simple rock chord progressions. And trying to make it fit into a more familiar form can be a painful experience for both the performer and the audience. Remember that Jimi Hendrix picked out only the melody line on that historical morning at that New York farm in 1969, and then added his own enhancements to those notes. He didn't try to strum chords and sing along. For the definitive work in this genre, look online for James Taylor and either his 2007 World Series or 2008 NBA Finals performances. Listen closely. And then concede defeat.
Back to the concert. Next up this afternoon was the Davisson Brothers Band from Clarksburg, W.Va. Now, these youngsters were energetic and talented originals. The quartet consisted of Donnie Davisson on vocals and rhythm guitar; his brother Chris on lead guitar; their cousin Sammy on bass guitar and back-up vocals; and their childhood friend Aaron Regester on drums. Together they gave us a mix of country, rock, country rock and folk-based tunes that certainly called up their mountain roots. They began with three songs from their debut and self-titled album: "Footstompin'," "Big City Hillbilly" and "Found Dead on a Fence Line."
Brother Chris, who had bestowed unto us a terrific solo at the end of "Footstompin'," really let loose with some magnificent picking on "Take a Whiff on Me." The range of sounds an amped acoustic can offer is truly amazing, and he brought forth many of them during the course of his time on stage.
The guys recently penned a slower ballad that they shared with us, "Appalachian American." Special guest guitarist Mark Emerick (of the Commander Cody Band, and a native of nearby Uxbridge, Mass.) joined the four in a spirited version of the Grateful Dead's "Franklin's Tower." The boys continued on their own with Clay Walker's "Jesse James," followed by a yodeling song consisting of an eight-bar repeated chorus that got our northern Yankee feet a-tappin' and our hands a-clappin.' Their final song was yet another selection from their 2009 debut album, Chicken Train. As the official opening act, the Davissons gave us an hour of good music and prepared us for more to come from the main event.
Donnie Davisson is a bouncy, sometimes frenetic front man who can step and boot-scoot his way across the front of the stage. Today he was also outfitted in a t-shirt with his home state outlined on it, just in case we didn't know anything about the group. Sammy can keep fine time with his bass on the left-hand side of the stage. Aaron may be the first drummer I've seen who doesn't make more than a few glances at his bandmates, and yet can sense exactly what they're doing and where the music is going. And Chris steals the scene with his phenomenal picking.
If these guys continue to play, grow and produce, they'll certainly deserve to be frontliners themselves, and at larger venues, someday. As it was on this day, however, they were scheduled to head immediately back to West Virginia, where their next two gigs would be free concerts at Wal-Mart openings. Here's hoping we get more from the Davisson Brothers Band in the years to come.
After a 20-minute intermission, the crowd was more than ready to see and hear Charlie Daniels and his band. The men who took the stage did not disappoint us. They got an ovation just for showing up. The songs came almost too quickly for me to write down. Included in the first five numbers were "Drinkin' My Baby Goodbye," "The Legend of Wooley Swamp" and a jazzy instrumental that involved all six musicians. Daniels revealed hardly any signs of his 74 years as he led the group with his fiddle or his guitar. As he sang, he often twirled his bow around with his right hand. (He would toss two bows into the audience during the concert; so two lucky people went home with tangible and free souvenirs. Alas, not me.)
Daniels could make a living as a motivational speaker. He had no qualms about addressing the memorial aspect of the day or expounding on the current state of American politics. He also made sure we knew what a "redneck" really is, as an intro to the song "(What This World Needs is) A Few More Rednecks."
Most of the members of the group have been with Charlie for decades. Backing up their leader were Chris Wormer on rhythm guitar, Bruce Brown on lead guitar, Charlie Hayward on bass guitar, Taz DiGregorio on keyboards and Pat McDonald on drums. With such experienced musicians on hand, it was only natural to feature them on specific songs. Taz DiGregorio (originally from Southbridge, Mass.) sang and led the band next with "Champagne."
After a spirited recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, which the audience gleefully joined, the guys launched into "In America." The lyrics feature the tagline, "You never did think that it ever would happen again." Though the song was written for another time and a slightly different set of circumstances, it seemed to apply and fit the mood of the day, Charlie explained. He deftly replaced the original "Pittsburgh Steelers fan" reference to "New England Patriots fan," which the crowd responded to with cheers. Lead guitarist Bruce Brown followed up the tune with "Opposites Attract." Then it was time for everyone to jam on a jazzy instrumental called "Black Ice."
The band is talented enough to offer a wide range of styles, from bluesy jazz to country and country rock. Or just to present us with some darn good pickin'. The only downfall of the performance for me was the actual sound mix. With the emphasis on the bass range rather than the treble, I felt every pluck on the bass guitar and every kick of the bass drum. I swear that my clothes lifted away from my body with every beat. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing, especially since I use ear plugs at every concert now. But it would have been nice to be able to enjoy more of the melody lines and the higher harmonies than we could. I don't think my hearing is that far gone.
Charlie took us back to his early days on the charts in the 1970s with "Long-Haired Country Boy." Who could resist joining him on the chorus? "'Cause I ain't askin' nobody for nothin' / If I can't get it on my own. / If you don't like the way I'm livin' / You just leave this long-haired country boy alone." He's recorded dozens of albums since that time. His newest, The Land That I Love, contains the musical admonition, "Let 'Em Win or Send 'Em Home." His heart-felt words brought tears to his own eyes, and the audience stood in agreement and support from the first chorus on. After Charlie wiped his face, he and the band summoned up the spirit of Johnny Cash with the boisterous "Folsom Prison Blues." Again, the singer personalized the lyrics for his audience. "I shot a man in Foxboro / Just to watch him die." Spoken aside: "Must have been a New York Jet." Hoots and hollers ensued. He'd taken us from musical depths to heights in just minutes.
By now, Charlie was playing from the edge of a large stool that had been brought out for him about halfway through the set. Armed with just his vocal cords and his guitar, he crooned "Amazing Grace" and encouraged us all to sing along. Then he took a brief rest while his band rocked out on the Lone Ranger portion of Rossini's "William Tell Overture." What a surprise! What a treat! Guitarist Chris Wormer took the lead, and drummer Pat McDonald gave a commanding performance under the melody line as well. It was a real crowd-pleaser.
Much to my small dismay, the band took its turn attacking the National Anthem. Charlie's fiddle was a nice addition to the instrumentation. But I stand by my advice given earlier in this review -- although they did do a better job with the tune than Tim Charron did.
To make up for that disappointment -- to me, at least -- the guys immediately launched into "The South's Gonna Do It." Hallelujah, sang my soul! This was one of the songs I had hoped to hear from them this afternoon. I was afraid they might not play it, since we were sitting hundreds of miles north of the Mason-Dixon line. The last online set list I found that included this tune was from a concert they had done in Maryland earlier in the summer. I was overjoyed to hear one of my favorites. A number of people danced in front of their seats to the infectious boogie-woogie beat. I was one of them. And when the last verse came around to "And all the good people down in Tennessee / Are digging Barefoot Jerry and the CDB," everyone shouted and pointed to the very same CDB, singing and playing before us. What fun!
We all knew what the final song of the day would be, so as soon as we heard the familiar opening of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," the crowd rose to its feet as one. Of course, the fiddling contest between the devil and Johnny was more intricate and lasted longer than the one on the original recording. And Charlie did them both. He walked over and played right next to his larger-than-life statue during those lines, mirroring himself. When he finished Johnny's amazing and winning performance, he ambled back to the microphone and quipped, "'s how you do it, son," just like he does in the current-running Geico commercial. We all cheered. Too soon, the song came to an end, and Charlie and his friends waved goodbye.
What a terrific afternoon of music we had been given! I moseyed my way through the masses to get back to my car and smacked the off button on the radio right after I turned the key in the ignition. It would have been a sacrilege, an actual insult, to allow other songs to interfere with the memory of the renderings I had just witnessed. So I drove the 90 minutes home in silence and with the windows wide open, reveling in the melodies of the last two songs still resounding in my head. Every once in a while, I chose to join them by bursting into the lines "Be proud you're a rebel / 'Cause the South's gonna do it again" at the top of my lungs, as I drove those many miles through central and rural Massachusetts. If any passing drivers heard me and were surprised, I never noticed.
[Thanks to Chris Harris and Chris Davisson, who supplied some information for this review.]
by Corinne H. Smith