The position of the Earth relative to the Sun indicated it was Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. But unsurprisingly in Rochester, Winter was hanging on for one last (we hope) gasp before ceding the floor. On an absolutely frigid and snowy late March Sunday, a duo of duos, Honeysuckle from New York via Boston, and Tough Old Bird from nearby Buffalo, shared the stage at the Club at Water Street for an intimate evening of folk music.
Honeysuckle, Holly McGarry on guitar and vocals, and Chris Bloniarz on mandolin and vocals, were closing out the first week of their first tour since the big live music pause. They released a new album in 2021 but when they were ready to tour behind it COVID reared its ugly head once again. So, they were promoting their “new” year-old album finally, though their set covered the breadth of their full catalog.
McGarry, donned in a flowery dress more fit for the season than the actual weather, tethered the duo to a more traditional folk anchor. Her beautiful singing brought life to reflective, darkened material, floating along her strummed and picked acoustic guitar work. Bloniarz contrasted that with mandolin playing that veered into jamgrass territory, weaving interesting and exhilarating threads in, out, over and through McGarry’s songs. He filtered his instrument through a large bank of pedals, though it never lost it’s mandolin-ity. He set up an occasional loop to increase the duo’s reach, a grooving bass-line or nice vamp to solo over for a few bars.
Their songs often looked into the past. “Shadow Dance” was inspired by an episode of the British show “Repair Shop,” which McGarry binged over the pandemic, in which an old violin was meticulously restored. The tune had an appropriately timeless quality. “Two Stone Birds,” about a stressful trip transporting delicate family heirlooms cross country on a small airplane, was fittingly jaunty and folksily funky. A cautionary tale about exploring your genealogy, “To the Grave” teetered between bright and dark. A rarely played “Crossbow” emerged from obscurity to fulfill a birthday request (as if having the band sing you “Happy Birthday” isn’t enough of a gift!), and proved to be one of the set’s highlights.
Tough Old Bird, brothers Matthew and Nathan Corrigan, opened the show with a set of their gorgeous folk duets. Matthew handled most of the vocal duties while Nathan took care of most of the flashier guitar work. But there was no exclusivity to this setup, these are brothers that know how to share. They are also brothers who knew how to harmonize, like only kin can, beautifully singing about both winter and spring, even if neither or both were appropriate, and songs inspired by their home’s proximity to the Great Lakes. The duo filled out and diversified their sound; Matthew with deft harmonica playing and Nathan switching it up with a banjo and electric guitar, all the while banging out rhythms on a foot tambourine.
Water Street served up a double shot of double folk that warmed the chilled audience up like a double shot of whiskey, from the inside out.
Honeysuckle Setlist: Miss You, Gaslight, Untouchable, Shadow Dance, Two Stone Birds, Little Less Alone, It’s Getting Late, Something Worth Having, Windstorm, Greenline, Firestarter, To the Grave, Darkness Knows, Crossbow, Deep Blue Eyes, Canary