Traveling down a country road that didn’t veer from it’s straight path infinitely in either direction, the kind GPS voice eventually called for a turn down a perpendicular gravelly dirt path. It wound through a vast vineyard before arriving at a wooden barn. Visible inside through the large barn window, a stage was being set: drums, amps, guitars, all illuminated by a simple set of LEDs. As the crowd gathered, sampling the wine and meats being served up at the Ravines Wine Cellar, they oohed and aahed and tried to capture images of September’s beautiful full moon, aka the Harvest Moon, rising through the late summer sky. The crescent moon logo of the Smith Club Series, however, served as a reminder of the impending concert.
Opener Brooke Annibale, comes from Pittsburgh via Nashville via Pittsburgh and back again. Her sound reflected her disjointed travels. Her beautiful voice sometimes reaching a more emotional gravelly strain, melodic strumming interrupted by dashes of brilliant fingerpicking, and simple rhythms shifting in surprising jolts. One of her songs took a cyclical path as well. “Alright,” off of her 2015 LP The Simple Fear (as most of the set was), was written while she was employed at Starbucks. After finally recording it a few years later, Starbucks bought the tune to play in their stores nationwide.
Headliner Aoife O’Donovan took the stage in front of the sell out crowd after a short break. Her band, Anthony Da Costa on guitar and Steve Nistor on drums, have been touring with her since January, in support of her early 2016 release, In the Magic Hour. “Lay My Burden Down” off of her 2013 debut Fossils was followed by “Magic Hour” off her latest, and the set continued with a healthy mix of both releases, sprinkling in some covers for good measure.
O’Donovan’s voice provided the melodies, her guitar the rhythms. Her song craft was like the perfect grapes, but as any vintner or artisan knows, that is just the base. She added Da Costa’s guitar and Nistors’s drums to fill the bottle with subtle and not-so subtle hints and flavors. Free from major rhythmic lifting, Nistor danced outside the edges with flourishes and broad swaths. Da Costa’s guitar added body and color, bringing out the best in every moment, constantly moving in fleeting moments of brilliance, rarely soloing but shining brightly when given the opportunity. O’Donovan had crafted this band perfectly. The timeless quality of her music mellowed warmly within the barns wooden walls, much like the wine aging in casks nearby.
During a two-song solo break, she veered from her planned set to grant a fan’s request of the rare “Diamond” from her former band Sometymes Why. She pulled off the unexpected change incredibly well and followed with a stunning rendition of the traditional Creole love ballad, “The Lakes of Pontchartrain.”
Throughout the evening O’Donovan chronicled the band’s travels that day through upstate New York. They started with coffee in a “beautifully tiled” cafe in Buffalo. A little while later they were stranded for two hours at the Pembroke Thruway rest stop when they mistakenly locked the keys in the rental car. They made it to the gig though, with time enough to sample Ravines’ wines, grab some dinner and rehearse for a “special silent movie soundtrack” set they were performing at Freshgrass. After the show they would head to their hotel in the foothills of the Adirondacks, in Utica. “We’re in the Finger Lakes now, how far are the Adirondacks?” she wondered aloud.
The evening ended as it had begun, with the room mesmerized by the Harvest Moon. In tribute of the full celestial moon, the band played a cover of the Neil Young tune that shared it’s name. A fitting finish to a perfect evening amongst the grapevines.
Brooke Annibale: Like the Dream of It, Under Streetlights, Middle of the Mess, Alright, All Over Again, The Good Hurt, Patience, Remind Me
Aoife O’Donovan: Lay My Burden Down, Magic Hour, Stanley Park, Hornets, Magpie, Glowing Heart, Red & White & Blue & Gold, Beekeeper, Anyhow I Love You (Guy Clark), Diamond*, The Lakes of Pontchartrain* (Traditional), Donal Og (Traditional) > Porch Light, King of All Birds, Detour Sign, Oh Mama
Encore: Harvest Moon (Neil Young)
* O’Donovan solo