Last Thursday night was filled with string picking, bow strumming and warm bluegrass music at Valentine’s in Albany in celebration of Dan Johnson and the Expert Sidemen’s second album, Bound for Abiquiu release party. The hosts were joined by their friends, The Grassroots Rebels and Driftwood, two Upstate New York bands that combine Americana and bluegrass with plenty of attitude and flair. With Memorial Day weekend upon us, the show was a great way to relax with simple songs and prepare for the sunny days ahead.
I have a good amount of friends that hail from Binghamton, who are obsessed with Driftwood and now I can understand why. The four piece stringed band took the stage and wasted no time by starting a musical ruckus. Claire Byrne is a furious fiddle player, who shakes the ground with heart as she played all night with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. “Ooh keep it down for the banjo solo” yelled guitarist, Dan Forsyth, hushing the crowd and cranking up the banjo picking by Joe Kollar. The band has fantastic chemistry as there is constant communication on stage with words and instruments, everyone holding their own but still blending perfectly together. It isn’t until a few songs in that the crowd finally hears vocals and they were worth the wait. Driftwood has impeccable harmonies that give their melodies and lyrics a more heartfelt joy. The tunes had attention grabbing, sharp ends with steady, heart racing crescendos. Joey Arcuri brought out the bow on his standup bass giving the songs a new sound with darky, heavy notes. As the set went on, Driftwood gave respects to Dan Johnson by repeatedly dedicating multiple songs to him as well as the venue. Kollar joked that it was their best Albany crowd ever, considering they haven’t played the area in over a year and Claire added, “I like Valentine’s and Dan Johnson.” My favorite song of the night was “Brother” which had a slight Celtic sound, complete with light, airy, long bow strokes. Driftwood are touring all over the East Coast this summer and are most excited for a new album in the works, set to drop in this fall. Be sure to catch them at such festivals as Taste of Syracuse, The Great Blue Heron and Grassroots.
Dan Johnson and the Expert Sidemen gently opened their CD release party with their newest hit “Bound for Abiquiu,” and the venue was mesmerized. Johnson’s voice is mature and soothing, with a country twang that made the show feel like a warm summer night. “Garden Below” had some of my favorite lyrics of the night such as, “Sometimes I feel like an ocean looking for a river that I can’t find.” Brian Elsenbeck demonstrated his musical skills by alternating between the accordion and the banjo all night with great enthusiasm, and as Dan puts it, he is nicknamed “The Wizard of Accordion Mountain.” Roger Noyes, on the pedal steel guitar, kept the crowd lingering on every easy going note with a laid back, southern vibe. Fans got a treat when Claire Byrne of Driftwood joined the boys on stage for their classic hit, “Baton Rouge,” adding an angelic vocal twist. One of my favorite moments of the night was during the song, “Dancing Fool,” a new romantic tune with guitar strumming so sweet it caused a few couples to slow dance around the venue. Dan Johnson’s lyrics break your heart one moment and build you up with loving hope the next, a classic bluegrass rollercoaster. The former Albany local who now calls Vermont home, anticipates more visits to Upstate New York to share his newest album at such festivals as Rhythm on the Ridge on June 8th and Bellstock 20 on July 18th.
Setlist: Bound for Abiquiu, Come on in My Kitchen, Adam and the Snake Oil Salesman, The Garden Below, My Three Friends, Baton Rouge*, Dancing Fool, Out of the Shade, Off on the Tide, Utica Blues, Another Good Thing is Come and Gone, Someone New, Sid Purple
*with Claire Byrne of Driftwood