Valentine’s Day in Woodstock, NY seemed like a perfect romantic weekend getaway, but what to do while in town besides eat, shop and enjoy the picturesque Catskill setting? Robert Randolph and the Family Band answered that question with a performance at Bearsville Theater to a vibrant, coupled crowd. The Compact warmed the crowd up with power trio guitar rock, highlighted by a some Herbie Hancock and a “Cissy Strut” jam appetizer. This was the first of many trips to Bearsville Theater and the location is ideal, only a little over an hour drive from Albany and right off the main road with ample parking, even with an excess of snow taking up spots, but understandably so after this eternal winter. The venue has a cabin in the woods architecture but inside its far more than that. A sunken bar so as not to block the view of the view of the stage, which was unfettered via glass windows, making for optimal sightlines to the crowd in the bar. Limited reserved seating upstairs provided a great view but downstairs among the crowd, dancing on the floor were the majority of the crowd. Randolph’s howling, and screaming pedal steel guitar squealed as he and his band took the stage for an all too short 90 minute set.
Following a warm up instrumental, The Family Band tore into “Amped Up”, one of the many highlights off of 2013’s Lickety Split, and gave the crowd an electric charge to begin the night. Seated at first, then standing up for some of the songs that took a more aggressive touch, Randolph was mellower but still gave off an energy that fed into the crowd. This was the breakout Bonnaroo star of 2002, but with more restraint and focus. The result: a honed sound and showcase of the beauty of the pedal steel as well as what you can do when you possess a great deal of talent in the instrument. Randolph’s cousin, Danyel Morgan, held grooves down on bass and quickly escalated the beat as Robert sped up the lead. A variation on the Wetlands classic “The March” brought the quartet into sync in one of the few composed parts of the evening.
It wasn’t “La Grange” but it was damn close. Pouring ZZ Top into “Shake Your Hips” included Robert inviting the ladies in the audience to dance on stage, an ever-welcome staple of a Randolph show. Deep instrumentals and a sit-in with an unknown guitarist preceded the closing “I Don’t Know What You’ve Come to Do”, with Danyel’s high-range vocals setting the crowd a foot. Between the pedal steel’s shrieks of joy and Danyel’s passion, you couldn’t find a better closing song for the sweat-inducing set.
An encore of a slow Randolph-led jam deferred to Ted’s Jam, wrapping up the show just after midnight. Altogether, it was a perfect Valentine’s Day with The Family Band. The only thing that seemed amiss – one of their biggest hits is “I Need More Love” but it wasn’t played on Valentine’s Day? The show had no complaints, but it felt like a missed opportunity on second glance. Nevertheless, Robert Randolph and the Family Band have a unique and rounded sound that is second to none. You can catch them in Syracuse on March 20th at The Westcott Theater.