at Sellersville Theater,
(28 June 2003)
Some people wonder why I will happily drive about two hours and nearly 100 miles each way for a Tanglefoot concert. "Groupie," they mock. "Foot Head," I shoot back with regal dignity. As for why I try to go to every Tanglefoot concert within driving distance, well, it's for a number of reasons.
Obviously, I love their music, and I like to support the musicians whose music speaks to me. They're genuinely good people, and I like to support genuinely good people. As terrific as their CDs are, a live performance adds a different dimension to the music. Finally, they get better every time I go to one of their gigs, and you just can't beat -- or resist -- that.
The line-up has changed since the first concert I went to a year and a half ago, but Steve Ritchie is still there on vocals, rhythm guitar and clever banter. Ritchie is the man behind the elegant harmonies that help make Tanglefoot's music so appealing, and the energetic passion he pours into his performance is electrifying.
The light -- but not lightweight -- strong timbre of Ritchie's voice is a perfect counterpoint to the velvety vocals of bass player Al Parrish, whose voice is (in)famous for being described as "halfway between melted chocolate and sex." After far too long, Parrish once more has a stand-up bass to play, with which he literally dances and redefines joy.
Terry Young sparkles on a variety of instruments (guitar, banjos, mandolin and pennywhistle), and when the music is at its liveliest, he's positively impish. His range of vocal expression is impressive, from tender in "The Garden" to tough in "Feu Follet" to rough-and-ready in "Dollar Bill."
Bryan Weirmeir took over keyboards from Rob Ritchie just over a year ago, and he does an outstanding job. He seems to be a natural extension of the piano, and his intensity is mesmerizing. Audiences get a sample of his warm smooth vocals in "A Bit of That Goes On," and I look forward to hearing more from him in the future.
Perhaps the biggest change in Tanglefoot occurred only about two months ago, when Joe Grant retired. One of the original founders and the only one still with the band, Grant seemed to be a fixture in Tanglefoot, and I felt very sad and sorry for myself when I heard that I would no longer see his blinding grin beaming from the stage. I couldn't imagine anyone replacing him.
No one did. Rather, Terry Snider succeeded Grant as the "Foot Fiddler" with a rich, resonant style that speaks to his classical training. Snider doesn't try to replicate Grant's sound; rather, he makes the fiddle parts his own with deep, vibrant notes that roll effortlessly from under his fingers and bow. His fiddling on "Buxton" and "Agnes on the Cowcatcher" (the fiddle tune at the end of "Roll on Jamaica") was particularly superb at the Sellersville Theater, and the overall quality was consistently high.
Snider has made a remarkable impact on the band. In integrating the newest member, Tanglefoot has achieved new dimensions in its music. The nuances and depth of the songs have shifted and expanded, and they sound practically brand new. The arrangements sound tighter, cleaner with a synthesis that is startling and exciting. The band didn't founder with Grant's departure and that, I believe, is a testament to Grant's artistic integrity. Tanglefoot has always seemed to be a band that was about the music, not about egos, and their continued growth and musical strength is evidence of that.
The performance at the Sellersville Theater amply demonstrated that strength as well as the band's versatility with a range of songs such as "Backyard Sailor," "Laura Secord," "Music in the Wood," "Seven a Side," "Commodore's Compliments" and more, including those mentioned above. The finale was a blistering "Jack the Green," which they outdid on the encore, "Traighli Bay," and the somewhat small but enthusiastic audience could have happily stayed for more.
In addition, the skilled hand of the theater's light and sound technician, Carl, created mostly subtle yet dramatic effects, enhancing the mood of the songs. The blackout at the final chord of "Jack the Green" was anything but subtle but it was remarkably effective!
The Sellersville Theater is in its first year of operation after renovations, and it is one of the most beautiful venues I have ever seen. A tiny lobby with a small old-fashioned bar where wine, beer and soft drinks may be purchased gives way to an elegant theater with deep green walls set off with patterned panels and the soft pale red of the seats. The stage is relatively low, creating an inviting atmosphere that encourages the rapport between the performers and the audience. The staff is friendly and courteous, and the customer service is exemplary. I purchased my ticket over the phone, and it arrived in the mail with a friendly, clearly written letter complete with directions, maps and parking and dining suggestions. It was one of the best experiences I have ever had with a theater for any kind of performance, and I urge any readers in driving distance (see paragraph 1) with an interest in music to check it out.
Tanglefoot has a live CD due out in fall 2003, and that and last night's performance will have to sustain me until January 2004, when next they will be in my neck of the woods. But you can check the schedule at their website to see if they are coming to your area. Don't miss the sheer musical magic these five men make with their voices, hands and hearts.