I’ve been a bluegrass and roots folk fan for a long time and these are three of the best around. I first saw the Tillers open for Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band about three years ago. They are an incredibly tight trio who still plays bluegrass the old fashioned way, unplugged and crowded in a semi-circle around one central microphone. This night they headlined the show but had two openers, both of whom have received much love from NPR. The first was New Orleans group Hurray For The Riff Raff. You may have seen them as a group of musicians outside of a coffee shop on the HBO show Treme. For this show it was a stripped down duo of Alynda Lee Segarra on lead vocals and guitar and Yosi Perlstein on violin. They both are petite and slight but full of big sounds. Segarra’s voice soared through the old sanctuary in the repurposed church that houses Southgate House Revival. I thoroughly enjoyed their set, expecially the rising hit “Look Out Mama” and hope to see them with a full band next time.
The big surprise of the night was Spirit Family Reunion. I had heard their name around but had yet to check out their music. They blew me away, plain and simple. It’s the first time I’ve ever felt the need to describe a bluegrass/folk show as explosive, but it certainly was. Their harmonies and relentless energy were on point from start to finish. My favorite part about their sound was how they worked in the female harmonies. It was classic bluegrass intervals rather than the sweeter side of things like a duo such as Civil Wars. Let it be known that I love the Civil Wars, but it was refreshing to hear a different take on the mixing of male and female voices.
The Tillers took to a stage that was empty with the exception of a microphone stand with a sign on it like those from the Grand Ole Opry with an altered version of their band name. It had been amended with an “m” to give it the title of “Them Tillers.” Since I had first seen them their original bass player has come down with serious medical problems and they were promoting a benefit show to help raise funds for his medical bills. They will be re-releasing their first record at the show as well and donating proceeds to help out their fellow Tiller. As always, the trio played fantastically well and the hometown crowd packed the place. If for some reason you missed this show, I recommend seeing any of these bands whenever you have the chance!