For Honest Folk’s first show of 2018, and their 10th show ever, they brought David Wax Museum, who themselves are celebrating their 10th year as a band. As they’ve made their way around the country, carting along their two kids, eating their kale and kimchi salads in parks or Wendy’s/Gas Station hybrids, they’ve made friendships at show stops along the way, with years separating meaningful contacts. On their drive to Rochester, with the cold and snow blustering in, they wondered if it was such a good idea to visit in January. But they remembered, people need the sense of community and warmth an intimate concert would bring, now more than ever. Right they were.
On a different stage. in a different place, the President was celebrating his first year in office with his State of the Union. David Wax and his wife Suz Slezak, traveling as just a duo for this tour, presented their audience with a different vision of reality. While one was promising walls and deportations, this couple were breaking down barriers and blending cultures. Inspired by an early introduction to Buena Vista Social Club and collaborations with a musically-gifted Paraguayan exchange student, Wax travelled to Mexico where he learned their music and absorbed their culture. He developed a unique sound blending traditional Mexican and American folk music.
Wax and Slezak blended the sounds of guitar, ukulele, fiddle, accordion with traditional Mexican percussion by way of a donkey’s jawbone and a tarima, a small wooden stage to stomp on. The diversity of the instrumentation provided plenty of different flavors throughout the show. On the gentle and moving “Wondrous Love,” Slezak plucked out an echoey melody on her fiddle reminiscent of Andrew Bird. They sang into a single mic on “Turn This Love Around,” which built up, finishing with a gorgeous mesh of guitar, fiddle, vocals and stomping.
In the studio, the band would warm up by playing traditional Mexican folk songs. They shared a couple of them during the evening, including “El Toro Zacamandu,” a song Wax first heard in an ice cream parlor in Missouri of all places. They plan to record another album this year, and also introduced a pair of the new songs that will probably make it, “Line of Light” and “Be Patient.” With those as a sampling, it appears the future of their union continues to be bright.
In a Democracy, citizens are offered the opportunity to participate in the process. The same was true during this concert. During “Yes, Maria, Yes,” the audience was split into two sides down the middle. One side stood and sang, “Yes, Maria, Yes,” while the other stood and sang, “No, Maria, No” in quick succession, up and down and back and forth like a good congressional debate. In a more immersive bit of participation, the crowd was asked to close their eyes during “Every Time Katie” to experience a ‘concert in the blind’. Wax and Slezak walked through the room, playing guitar and bells, providing an intimate surround-sound moment of calm and beauty. A rare feat in this day and age.
Why did the band drive to Rochester in the dead of winter? Because they trusted in the integrity and vitality of the Honest Folk music series, of which they were happy to be a part. A full house of attentive music lovers certainly made it worth their while. And they promised to be back, hoping to bring their full band back to Monty’s Krown, the first place they ever played in town way back when.
As with all Honest Folk shows, there were also tangible answers to the state of our union. On the environmental front, Impact Earth was on hand to help make it a zero-waste event. And 10% of the concert’s proceeds were donated to The Center for Youth, whose Executive Director, Elaine Spaull, spoke about the center’s mission to provide a safe space for LGBTQ youth.
Set 1: Singing to Me, Don’t Lose Heart, El Ahualulco, Line of Light, Wondrous Love, Harder Before It Get’s Easier, At Least I Tried, Yes Maria Yes
Set 2: The Least I Can Do, ?, Turn This Love Around, Be Patient, El Toro Zacamandu, Every Time Katie, Unfruitful, Guesthouse