Fair weather: But Bums keep fans inside

Published April 14,2005, in issue 0415 of the Hook

The Fair Weather Bums
at Miller's
Tuesday, April 5


When the weather outside is frightful, Miller's is often too full, but in the colder months there are many evenings where there's nowhere else in town you can go to slake your musical thirst. With the coming of spring, the insides of the bar ooze into the many tables out front, leaving behind a smoky shell where good tunes can be appreciated without the loud buzz of the worker bees disturbing the chorded splendor.

Last Tuesday evening was one such night: the recent arrival of spring brought outdoor seating back in vogue on the Downtown Mall, and The Fair Weather Bums decided to reward those of us who stayed indoors with their bluegrass mastery.

Composed of Peyton Tochterman on guitar and vocals, Darrell Muller on stand-up electric bass, and Andy Thacker on mandolin, the group is a tight little outfit, mixing pop and country together with the old timey sound that Charlottesville loves so much.

The trio began with a story song of soft guitar and mandolin, the bass coming in for only the last verse, but they quickly left the stage for their 15-minute food break. Before long, they were back, and things got hopping from there.

"Been working on the new railroad / mud up to my knees" sang Tochterman in a medium-high gravelly voice. "Working for old John Henry / he's mighty hard to please," he continued, and I was struck by the quality of his vocal chords, seeming to fit exactly what I imagined the song's steel-drivin' protagonist would sound like. Mandolin flourishes punctuated Tochterman's lines, each verse ending with the coda "Been all around this world," in two-part harmony.

A short little ditty, the song soon gave way to what seemed to be the bluegrass equivalent of Madness' "Our House"– a song that seemed to be speaking of both the end of the destruction of a couple's home and the end of their relationship, all in three part harmony. Some of the longest verse lines I've ever heard in a pop song finally gave way to a phenomenal mandolin solo from Thacker, shortly before the "goodbye so long" coda repeated to close the number.

A slow waltz was up next, a sort of bluegrass "In My Life," a song of longing for times and places past. The group's slower numbers were definitely their best material they played that night, though the standard-time pieces were no slouches. Amid the quite varied set, Tochterman announced the group has a record coming out the first week of May, and that's one record I'm going to check out.

In a town with so many bluegrass aficionados, a supply demand curve would seem to dictate that there would be many acts to quench the acoustic thirst. The Fair Weather Bums are at the top of that heap.

The Fair Weather Bums