Whenever I make the trek to Elevation 27, I end up riding down Va Beach Boulevard. Invariably, at a certain point, the specter of my teenaged self climbs up on the back of my bike. Whispers in my ear while I zoom past all manner of old neighborhood haunts. The apartment complex where my folks used to live. The mall where I spent many of those days playing video games. My high school. The corners where I'd cross to head over to various friends' houses to see if I could crash for a night or two.
This is especially true this month, due to my old theater teacher running a benefit for VB's charter IB school -- Green Run Collegiate. Note: Looking for a good cause? These folks do great work for kids and could use a donation -- click here to check it out.) As a result of attending that we had a bit of an impromptu reunion and an old brother mentioned that he knew members of Delta Rae and he wanted me to shoot this show. Phone calls were made. Lists were added to. And here I am.
That said? I have to be up front on this point: I didn't come into this evening as a big Delta Rae fan, and this isn't the kind of music I generally pay a lot of attention to.
. . .
What to make of Delta Rae? They nominally bill themselves as country music, which isn't my bag -- but of course it's more complicated. Yes, there's country here. But it's country deep-fried in soul, seasoned with swampy blues, and liberally garnished with gospel. If one can sing gospel songs about witchcraft, Greek mythology, and #metoo. I make it a general policy to avoid steppin' in churches for concerns of spontaneous combustion, on the off chance that they're right and I'm wrong about the nature of the universe -- so I can't attest as to the subject matter of contemporary gospel music. But if more houses of worship tackled issues like this in their hymnals, I might be persuaded to check em out. Well.. Okay.. Probably not. But you know what I'm sayin'.
When a band comprised of white people with vaguely Scandinavian surnames comes at you with this kind of music, it's hard not to raise an eyebrow and wonder whether there's some cultural appropriation going on here. But the band has been writing songs since their tweens, all have long roots in the South, and grew up with this music deeply embedded in their social fabric -- so I tend to say no when those kinds of charges are levied. It makes sense that this is what comes out of their experiences. At the end of the day, this sound is a melting pot, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that.
Others may disagree, and many do. You kind of have to decide where your own line is on that -- and if you start with these kids you eventually have to go after a whole host of white folks playing songs that came out of a tradition not their own. You have to hunt down Joe Bonamassa, or exhume the shade of Clapton's youth. Or hop in a time-machine to kill the members of Zeppelin before they ever picked up an instrument. I mean.. You can do that. Personally, I think there's bigger battles to fight and this band is making music that people adore. They're progressive. And they're doing good works.
. . .
Live performance is hands down this group's strong suit. I'd argue that they have yet to capture the lightning in a bottle that their concerts bring to bear on any of their studio records. Though there's been an announcement of a new record coming out very soon, so maybe this time. This is a deeply earnest band, and you find yourself moved in moments despite any jaded, inner music cynic. Er, I mean critic. I pay attention to audiences when I review a show, and their fans are madly passionate about the work. You don't get that kind of love without earning it, and the fact of that goes a long way to buttress Delta Rae as a serious force. I refer to them as kids, but honestly they've been at it for a decade now, and while if I quibble I could point to perceived missteps in their set, overall they bring some thunder. Nothing to sniff about in an age where most groups can't come close to reaching the brass ring of a live act that genuinely moves an audience.
. . .
You might recognize the opening act, Noah Guthrie, from the now closed out prime time wonder that was "Glee." But honestly, who cares? As a musician, being an actor on a now dead television series doesn't get you shit. Guthrie stands squarely on the strength of his songwriting and his voice: both of which are absolutely stunning. He's got a great presence on stage, and I'd step out to see him on a headlining tour based on what I saw here tonight without a second thought..
. . .
On the way back after a delightful evening with a new friend who met me at the show, I decided to stop off at the old alma mater. I parked right by the side entrance to the theater that shaped so much of my life and lit up a cig. I peered into the hallway beyond the double doors next to that spot. Awash in nostalgia as i imagined the ghosts of our youth scurrying to and fro, captured in moments of intensity over trivialities I can no longer recall.
Time is a fire, my friends. And it's also currency.
Spend that shit wisely, yeah?
-- end transmission --
Durham, NC. Folk-Rock.
Greenville SC. Folk.