The Bus Stop Theatre was re-arranged, the traditional rows of seats eschewed for a makeshift cafe aesthetic as Jenny Berkel slid quietly on stage. She has a voice like thin, ghost-white sheets hanging on the line; she’s soft, slight and angelic, at the same time tearing at the wind like a siren. Her shimmering, down-tempo folk – strung out with sparkling reverbs and fiendish Fender Deluxe tones – was filling the Bus Stop with a quiet catharsis. Nick Everett joined her on bass, extending gigantic low ends to the far flung reaches of the world as he stooped low and played with the sustain in a rumbling bellow. Her smile – and her songs – were scathingly beautiful as she ripped through porchfront poetics and rural nostalgia, a stalwart of pure grace.
As she poured out a heartfelt thanks and swept her feet off the stage, we were greeted with a cataclysm of contrast as Willie Stratton and company forcefully stormed the stage, a crashing din of fierce and frantic folk. Flanked on both side by floor toms, Stratton belted his taylor-made dark melodies and dingy lyrics with a reckless abandon, wild eyes ablaze as bandmates Magnus von Tiesenhausen and Kristen Wells alternated banjo, accordion and floor toms, and Grace Stratton stomped, pounded and flailed with the mesmerizing rhytmic pulse. A catapulted sense of urgency and inherent frustration, songs like the chaingang choral “November” shook the theatre, the band almost stomping clear through the stage as they clamoured around, throwing heads back in cascading harmony howls.
Despite breaking a string — and possibly the entire guitar — Stratton rolled with the punches, picking up the banjo and launching straight into another one as Nick Everett readied a guitar for them to borrow. A bit rattled, after somewhat fumbling lyrics to a well intended cover of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “King of Carrot Flowers Pt.1” the band regained composure, with Stratton’s younger sister Grace stealing the show with her cro-magnon drumming and heavenly, howling harmonies.
The crowd carried the band off-stage in a volley of applause as the Moonshine Ramblers took to the stage and a moat of writhing, dancing bodies formed around it. With a searing set of bluegrass shred and crawling, lurching ballads, the Ramblers delivered intricately crafted originals and crowd-pleasing traditional fare as the patrons shifted, slid and dove around eachother, linking arms and hearts.
Alex Hastie’s maniacal slide guitar screamed through the set, a wild, enthralling preamble of southern sweetness, while the slap and boom of Adam Pye’s double bass rumbled through the theatre, his eyes closed and head back in mesmerization. Among a snarling, soaring rendition of the Fred Eaglesmith classic “Freight Train,” were a dense smattering of originals as the crowd begged for more, with the band giving in and giving us a gigantic encore, ending with a strangely and morbidly upbeat version of Doc Watson’s “Deep River Blues.”
While the Moonshine Ramblers may have had the entire theatre up and on their feet for the action, it was Willie Stratton who inevitably stole the show, captivating onlookers and leaving them catatonic in the wake of a wild caterwaul of incinerating, brooding folk music.
Never profiting from the pithy pitfalls or pedantic antics of the common journalist, Nick "Noose Papermen" Laugher has continuously baffled readers by demonstrating a rare understanding of the vagaries of our current cultural climate. Rumored to have been conceived and raised in the nook of a knotty pine somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, Laugher was forced to abandon his true calling (pottery) after having one night experienced a vision in which a wise and generous hawk appeared to him through the shimmering static of his television set. The apparition spoke to Laugher of an aching need for some new kind of media perspective, one that elegantly incorporated esoteric vocabulary, gratuitous alliteration and penetrating pun-manship. And so it was. And so it is. And so it always will be.