Courtly country : Local boys pack 'em in
I arrived at Miller's Saturday night about an hour before the bluegrass band King Wilkie was scheduled to perform, and quite literally just barely snagged myself a seat. Misplacing my keys or some other time-bandit which I'm sure occurred in an alternate plane of reality would have forced me to stand up for the group's entire set because Miller's was possibly more packed than the band's six members looked performing on the venue's tiny 5' by 5' stage.
Charlottesville is an interesting town, a mixture of the erudite and the dirty, and these types and many more were all present Saturday– in terms of marketing to the different segments of our population, I think King Wilkie has everyone else beat.
After a short intro by the group's manager, Rick Easton, the sextet launched into their first number, an instrumental piece about a minute and a half long. The confines of Miller's stage forced the group to continually reposition themselves to let one or another solo on the lone mic; like the Red Sea under Moses's command, King Wilkie's suited members would ebb, pushing the featured player forward for his cheer-inducing moments of glory.
With barely two seconds of dead air after the conclusion of the first number, the group launched into "It's Been A Long Time," with mandolinist Reid Burgess and guitarist John McDonald singing spot-on two part harmonies. As opposed to verse/chorus structure, the song went verse/fiddle solo/verse/banjo solo/verse/acoustic guitar solo to end, with each of the featured soloists taking center stage in turn.
The next tune, an original by guitarist Ted Pitney, with McDonald singing lead and Burgess on backup, did not seem out of place at all among the group's traditional song set. The vocal dynamics between McDonald and Burgess are definitely one of the high points for the group as far as I'm concerned, making harmony singing, which can be tricky, look like no big deal.
The 3/4 waltzer "In the Pines" made an appearance, with continuous two-part harmony floating over Abe Spear's banjo twinkling in the background, until the a cappella outro. Possibly the slowest song of the evening, the King Wilkie version did not lack energy despite the downtrodden nature of the composition.
King Wilkie has some devoted fans, the type who show up to every performance and might even buy the band a round of drink if the opportunity arose. Next payday, if we happen to bump into each other, I might be buying for six.
King Wilkie rock out.
PHOTO BY MARK GRABOWSKI