[I've edited the description of Zuba slightly, everything else is just as it was in the original email I sent in 1997]
Date: Sat, 11 Oct 1997 18:38:21 -0400 (EDT)
Saturday, September 27th, I had a choice between Bela Fleck at the Flecktones at Somerville Theatre, or Tony Trischka at the Iron Horse.
I chose the latter, and drove out to Northampton, a bit late. They have two shows a night on weekends, one at 7pm and one at 10pm, so they do keep to the scheduled start time for the first show. I got there right at 7pm, thinking I probably wasn't going to get a good spot - the place looked pretty full. I asked the hostess to seat me as close to the stage as was available... and I got one of the three tables right at the foot of the stage! It was almost the only empty table in sight, strangely. Sitting at the next table were some people from Brandeis who often go to the WBRS Coffeehouse, who recognized me. And not only that, but the show hadn't started yet.
The musicians walked on stage about a minute after I sat down, and I looked up trying to spot Tony Trischka. Instead, I spotted Ron Cody, the banjo player of Fretwater. That's when I realized that it wasn't merely a Tony Trischka concert I'd come to, but the "banjo summit" - Fretwater, Bill Keith, and Tony Trischka! My personal list of banjo dieties starts with Alison Brown, then continues with Tony Trischka, Bela Fleck, Gordon Stone, Bill Keith, Ron Cody, Tony Furtado, and Pete Wernick, in roughly that order. If I'd known what concert this was going to be, I wouldn't have been ambivalent in the first place.
So, Fretwater got on stage and did a short but varied set, with pieces representing most of their styles: classical, bluegrass, funk, jazz, folk. Then Bill Keith joined them and played one with Ron Cody, after which Ron got off and Bill Keith played a few of his tunes with the band. He also performed some of those great jazz pieces which he's adapated to bluegrass really well: Caravan, Night in Tunisia, ...
The second set was Tony Trischka with his band. They ended by having everyone from both sets get on stage together to play an Earl Scruggs tune that they had arranged for three banjos - very cool! By then it was 9:30pm and really time to start setting up for the second show, but the audience wouldn't let up and they had to do a second encore :)
Once again they got everyone up, but this time they weren't prepared for it. They picked a random two-banjo song, made up a three-banjo arrangement on the spot, and went with it.
The show finally did end, and I prepared to leave, very satisfied. First, I picked up an Iron Horse schedule booklet, to see what future shows I'd want to go out there for. I started by separating the past from the future, by looking up up the present - the Banjo Summit show. That's when I noticed the 10pm show listing: Rippopotamus! While I was still blinking and wondering if I'd read it right, I looked up to see Dainis walking into the club.
Amusingly, I had actually typed up a Musi-Cal listing for this show a few weeks before, along with a bunch of other Rippo gigs, but I didn't pay it much attention because they play often enough in Boston that I don't need to go out to Northampton to see them. So, I forgot all about it, and got a pleasant surprise. I had been planning to go back to Boston for a party, but the people I was going with had just left me a message saying they weren't going, and Rich (the Rippodrummer) put me on the guest list, so my ambivalence faded and I stuck around.
Unsurprisingly, the show started late. Doors opened at about 10:40, and the opening act went on just before 11. The opening act was a band I'd never heard of, from Denver, Colorado, called Zuba...
The lead singer, a very cute blonde, also plays lead guitar. She's got a good, strong, rock singer voice, with a twist such that I could probably pick it out from among other singers. She plays with a lot of energy, dances with presence, and puts on a great show. Occasionally she puts down then guitar and goes back to the keyboards for a song or two. The regular keyboardist comes up front and plays flute, or sax, and I think even clarinet on one song. He's good at all of them. Then there's the main sax player, a tall thinnish attractive guy with far too much talent. Not only does he play every size of sax, all the way down to a big bass sax (the kind with the extra twist), but he can also play two of them simultaneously. He grabs one in each hand, puts both mouthpieces in his mouth, and plays well! He was playing different notes on the two saxes simultaneously, and keeping it tight, and I was staring and wondering if it was for real.
The rhythm section was actually pretty good too, but I didn't pay as much attention to them because I was too busy being impressed by the three frontpeople. After the show I talked to them and got a CD. I asked if they'd ever heard Rippopotamus, and were they going to stay for the show, but they said they had to leave because they needed to get to Cambridge, MA - apparently their next show was Sunday night at the House of Blues, two full sets! I talked them into staying for a few songs of Rippo, though, and they were impressed. Then on Sunday night I went to House of Blues and stayed through the end of the second set at 1:45am on Monday morning. Well worth it. And they gave me another CD :-)
Oh, one last tidbit to amuse you with: On the way out to the Iron Horse on Saturday night, I was listening to some celtic programming on WUMB, and they played a wild Scottish pipe tune that they later announced was by Def Sheppard :) (Well, I didn't actually see it written, so for all I know it might actually be spelled "Deaf Shepherd", but I don't think so!)