After a couple of years at Red Square – where the attendance was sparse to say the least – the annual Roots Music Festival moved uptown to The Linda, and the new home was a perfect fit.
Emceed by Chris Wienk of WEXT-FM, it was a splendid night – four and a half hours of non-stop music, all for a good cause. The fest was a benefit concert for the JC Club, which provides lunches for hungry inner-city kids in Albany.
The Blackwell Sinners – a family quartet led by siblings Chris and Courtney Blackwell – kicked off the evening with some back-porch country tunes, and by the time the very pregnant Courtney leaned into the microphone to sing the ballad, “Please Say Hello,” there was already a couple waltzing around the back of the theater.
The acoustic duo Palatypus leaned toward the folk end of the spectrum, as guitarists Matt Durfee and Mike Poulopoulos switched off on lead vocals. They brought guest fiddler Mat Kane up for a couple of tunes, including a gentle, bluesy sashay through “Trouble Came My Way” to wrap up their half-hour segment.
Festival organizers the Red Haired Strangers brought the music back to country mode with fiddler Joe Gumpper and pedal steel guitarist Rick Morse dishing up some tasty solos. But the sextet also provided the bluesiest music of the night, thanks to vocalist-harmonica player Ryan Dunham’s jaunty take on Tampa Red’s “Can’t Get the Stuff No More.”
The Heavenly Echoes eased into the gospel portion of the night with a rousing variation on the Temptations’ “My Girl,” which they re-invented as “My God,” explaining, “We changed it up and made a religious song out of it.” The rest of their show was straight-up, glorious gospel music and the group – five vocalists backed by a four-piece band – conjured up the Holy Ghost Power with such roof-raisers as “Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus,” “Something Got a Hold of Me” and “I’m Coming Home.”
Railbird proved to be the curve ball of the evening. In just a few short years, the band has evolved from jazz to singer-songwriter to roots-blues, but their current incarnation seems to find them leaning in a psychedelic, experimental indie-pop direction. Vocalist Sarah Pedinotti led her band through a delicious, adventurous set fueled by the clattering chug of drummer Chris Carey and percussionist Jeremy Gustin as they roamed through some old faves, a cover of Micachu’s “Guts” and selections from their brand new “Railbird EP” (including “Strange” and “Swamp Thing”). They capped off their set with Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel joining Pedinotti for a spin through “Umbrella Blues.”
Guitarist-vocalist Leigh Gibson took the evening to another level altogether with a marvelous bluegrass-tinged set that ranged from the Carter Family to the Band. Backed by an all-star pick-up band that included bassist Mike Barber, fiddler Mat Kane, drummer Sam Zucchini and mandolinist-guitarist Sten Isachsen, Gibson was simply masterful, applying his mournful, heartbreaking croon to such nuggets as Don Gibson’s “Just One Time” and Kieran Kane’s “Mountain Song.” MotherJudge and Michael Eck both joined in onstage, concluding the evening with the old favorite, “Long Black Veil.”
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk