Burlington – 8-26-17
|Flannel. Hot. Put those two words together, and you’ve got the jarring juxtaposition of an adjective designed to scintillate, and a material so homespun it’s downright humble. Hot Flannel, a head-turning foursome of handsome country-boys-turned-men making newgrass music like there’s no tomorrow, embodies that same unexpected twist of grounded and ground-breaking, cozy and cathartic.
It’s been a rough or a smooth day, or a mix of both—don’t worry, this quartet is comfortable with contrast–and you’re ready to be transported into the realm of soul-lifting music where gifted musicians are mere channels for ancient messages passed through the generations to our waiting, wordless souls. You’re in good hands. Four men of the hills, clad in jeans and flannel, bearded and every-day, stand casually on stage, and we are at once at home with their unassuming strength and clear, quiet purpose. As their fingers align on the strings, the instant transformation occurs as flannel gives way to heat, and a timeless, perfect ripple of sound and meaning envelops us and carries us away. When musicians play this comfortably, this well, this harmoniously together, the musicians themselves recede as the musical ride becomes our only experience. Hearing Hot Flannel is like floating on a tidy raft of trusty timbers down the clear running waters of an old Vermont river in the bright, hot sun. The river’s always been there, we’ve just never experienced it quite like this before. And it will never look quite the same to us again.
Vermont-born Patrick Ross doesn’t just play the fiddle—this unassuming master seems to sing the fiddle, or rather, the fiddle itself seems to sing soulfully in his strong and graceful hands. As he plays, he sometimes leans his head over, like a boy in his mother’s lap, listening quietly to the words of the stories being told to him. It’s easy to forget he’s playing at all—rather, we feel that he’s a conduit for phrases sung long ago in ancient languages. During performances, Patrick narrates in English, Quebecois, and a host of perfectly imitated accents he’s heard and naturally absorbed. A fifth-generation fiddler of French Canadian folk tunes, Patrick grew up bilingual in a close-knit family, in a tiny town on the border between the US and Canada. His ear is attuned to the sounds and contrasts of voices, cultures, and resiliency in trying times, and his music carries meaning more mature than any 30-something human has had time to invent. He’s a listener, and when he plays, we ride the memories of sound he recounts so effortlessly.
When the music ends, we feel somehow satisfied, as if the story has reached its conclusion, or the river has found the sea. Those same four guys with their earthy wooden instruments stand comfortably before us, yet they don’t look quite the same—we’ve glimpsed the sacred clothed in everyday flannel, heard the ancient voices singing through the fingers of regular folk. Ross, Shrag, Perkins and Melvin weave their instrumentation together so readily, so joyously, with seemingly no thought other than a common destination, that they carry us like a single raft along a stream of pure, woven sound. Cool flannel has never radiated quite so much heat.
What follows is a review by a columnist named Joe. His thoughts of Vermont life can be found at https://vermaniacs.wordpress.com.
Episode 19: 50 Shades of Flannel
In another example of Vermonters finding a way to cope with the winter, the Frolics are a series of three concerts held on cold, dark nights in the middle of February. The middle concert, held last night, featured Vermont’s outstanding Newgrass ensemble Hot Flannel.
Because it was Valentine’s Day, Doreen and I decided to make a date of it. Since we were a bit late to make reservations, and since Montpelier doesn’t have a ton of vegan-friendly restaurants in the first place, we decided to have dinner at old standby Tulsi Tea Room, with a dessert at the North Branch Cafe. Then we made a short walk through the lightly-falling snow to City Hall, which has an expansive theater on the upper level.
The chairs were starting to fill when we arrived, and by the time the show started the room was full. The theater normally has a concession stand, tonight augmented with a cash bar provided by Sweet Melissa’s. On tap were Fiddlehead IPA and Woodchuck Cider, both symbolic of the band and Vermont. Ticket-buyers were encouraged to wear their finest flannel shirts to the show, and about half of us complied.
Hot Flannel are an acoustic newgrass quartet fronted by fifth-generation fiddler extraordinaire Patrick Ross, who grew up on the Quebec border in Canaan, VT, and whose French roots shone through in his music. In addition to being a virtuoso on the fiddle, Ross is an engaging, enthusiastic and entertaining front man who clearly loves the music he plays and the musicians he plays with. The band also includes Doug Perkins on guitar, Matt Schrag on mandolin, and Pat Melvin on bass. After a few tunes, the foursome was joined on drums by Caleb Bronz, who provided a bit of a funky backbeat. It was when Jeremiah McLane brought his accordion to the stage for a raucous Quebecois throw down, however, that the bodies really hit the dance floor.
Performing most of the night as a septet, Hot Flannel flowed through a variety of genres, from bluegrass to gospel to Quebecois folk to jazz and even funk. A few of the highlights were “A-OK,” “Opus 1,” “Caravan,” and “Working on a Building.” The band occasionally slowed things down with a few waltzes, but also took the opportunity for some improvisational jamming. Though I don’t think they had played out in this configuration before last night, most of the band members had played with other members in other bands over the years, and the interplay in trading off leads and solos seemed very natural.
The Lost Nation Theater on its own is another gem that I will definitely be writing about in the months to come as the production season gets underway. We are lucky to have such an assets available to us in a state small enough that, eventually, everybody comes near where we live. Doreen said as we were dancing a happy jig, “if they were playing music like this every week I would go.”
|Hot Flannel is a Vermont based band Founded by Patrick Ross and Doug Perkins. Their style interweaves Folk, Jazz, Rock, Americana and Cajun genres.|