Lately I’ve been focusing on the little graces and pleasures: a nature walk with a loved one, a good meal, seeing a cool bird, or reading something shiny and (maybe a little too much). hope, like that of Kim Stanley Robinson. excellent novel The Ministry of the Future. Even a chance meeting with an old friend has the potential for an explosion of meaning and emotion these days. I met one recently that I haven’t seen since she barely survived a difficult pregnancy last year, and shooting shit with her again was an experience that haunted me with her. humble purity. There is so much wrong with our path as a nation, as a species, as moral and ethical beings, that almost anything that does not grease the skates of annihilation can contain a gloriously delicate and effervescent beauty like butterfly dust. As Leonard Cohen said, “Even damnation is poisoned by rainbows.”
So it was in this state of mind that I agreed to attend the first touring show at the Arcata Playhouse since this rotten pandemic started. As with my experience at the Eureka Symphony, I only review shows with a mask and vax card policy. The folks at the playhouse hit it off for the November 12 performance, so I settled in for a night out with two musicians I had never heard before: singer, songwriter and violinist Sara Milonovich and her musical partner. , guitarist Greg Anderson. Before the COVID era, my relationship with folk and bluegrass was a constant saturation; it’s all around those parts. You can’t swing a cat (I never would) without hitting a folk musician. And while there are certainly some incredibly talented workers in form, it’s unusual for these items to hold my attention for very long. To be honest, I’ve always been more of a jazz, punk, and metal guy.
However, there was something about the energy of the venue that night, if only because we were back there in the audience and witnessing a tour. Playhouse honcho Jacqueline Dandeneau certainly seemed to feel it in her moving introduction to the evening, and audiences were keenly aware that it might be something special. As it turned out, that was indeed the case.
At the start of the set, Milonovich broke the tension in the air due to the circumstances of the plague by thanking us for being so receptive and pleasant. A female voice came out of the darkness behind me, saying, “We are so happy to hear beautiful live music again.” Amen, sister.
Milonovich and Anderson played superbly, settling noticeably after a warm-up with the first two numbers. Milonovich is a world class fiddler and a very talented singer, and her accompanist has simple versatility with the acoustic guitar that sounds much easier than it is to accomplish. These musicians are obvious lifers. This life takes place primarily, we were told during one of Milonovich’s many stories and interactions with the public, in the Hudson River Valley around the town of Beacon, New York. During two hearty sets separated by a beautiful intermission, she sang songs about love and loss, death and survival, the Hudson River and Interstate 87. The setlist was heavily inspired by her last release, Northeast, a full record of lively violin. -the bluegrass work and the sweet country ruminations of contemporary folk. At one point, she scoffed at the terrifyingly high body count of the old genre’s murderous ballad music, noting, “A bluegrass song isn’t a safe place for a woman.” She suggested that the major keys and fast tempos were the secret delivery system for the moody and violent lyrics. The joke was excellent and the two performers seemed to feel comfortable talking to each other and talking to us. Milonovich noted that this was their first road show since the pandemic began, but that she buried her emotions at a presentable level because she forgot to pack “the waterproof mascara.”
For me, there were two highlights of the night and they were both covers: a sad and scary version of Hurray for “The Body Electric” by Riff Raff and an absolutely dazzling rendition of “Friends” by Led Zeppelin, the penultimate performance position of which left a crater that no recall could hope to fill. It’s a state that I have often felt before, delighted during moments of live musical shootings at much heavier shows.
I came home that night feeling as good as I had been for as long as I can remember – the confusing brain fog of our present world is a very real phenomenon. Nothing has been resolved, or resolved, and we still live in a precarious position in a horrific world of human corruption, violence and venality. However, if these little joys and graces, which floated in abundance during the performance like the spitting embers of a midnight campfire, can do it all, they can warm us and they can bring us light. And miracle of miracles, as I write this right now, I can still feel a little of that warming illumination. The performers, the audience and the good people of the Arcata Playhouse have my thanks.
Collin Yeo (he / him) has finished writing and now feeds the cats, who have apparently been in a near-death state since breakfast. He lives in Arcata with his feline overlords.