CARRBORO, N.C. -- In the wake of the logistical nightmare that tried to pass as a U2 concert at Carter-Finley Stadium, I was expecting something similar with the Carrboro debut of the critically acclaimed Up Cane Creek. In that respect, in only that respect, I was disappointed.
Despite the under-sized venue for such a notable musical milestone, the entire event went off without a hitch (if we don't count the bass amp going dead for several songs -- which I won't as the bass player covered for this potential disaster like a pro by upping his thumping volume and playing truly acoustically -- something which the bands on MTV's Unplugged never do.)
It is slightly curious that the home-grown Up Cane Creek had not performed before this week in Carrboro, given their touring history: public performances in Maryland and Virginia, recording sessions on the coast of South Carolina and in the mountains of North Carolina, gigs in Bear Creek, Butner and Winston-Salem -- all in addition to their multiple Chapel Hill outings. Up Cane Creek, as you might expect from their name, doesn't always go with the flow.
And it is ironic that the Creek's first club gig was not in a club (of the bar with bands sort) at all, but at Club Nova, the clubhouse rehabilitation program for people with mental illness.
Practicing each week on the western fringe of Orange County, on the banks of Cane Creek (thus the latter parts of the band name), the group is comprised of a couple of local couples, entrepreneur Jay Miller and his visual artist wife Ebeth Scott-Sinclair, and attorney Sandra Herring and her husband.
Already known as one of the best local cover bands for music from the 1780's (when big hair first entered the popular music domain), Up Cane Creek continues to expand its repertoire, its set list spanning the group's full range of Americana, bluegrass and gospel, being comprised of songs both traditional and original.
Beginning with a bluegrass "I'll Fly Away" and harmonized, a cappella versions of "Gospel Ship" and "If I Be Lifted Up," the show continued to the righteous rockin' and holy rollin' "Ain't No Grave," where the band showed its gospel streak, culminating in its own meditative "Walk Down to the Water."
The group unveiled its backwoods mountain heritage in light-hearted takes on "Cripple Creek," "Groundhog," and a mini-medley of "Old Joe Clark" and "June Apple," and then showed its roots-country roots with an edition of "Another Day Another Dollar" and their own working-class country compositions "Workin' on it Still" and "Leaving Danville," the latter of which was authored by Alabaman Miller and Wilson-bred Scott-Sinclair much to the dismay of the group's Danvillian bassist.
Vocalist Scott-Sinclair sang up a blue streak, literally, belting out not only their original "Blue Mist" but a Ray-Charles-derived, Patsy-Cline-influenced rendition of "Blue Moon of Kentucky" and a modernized and feminized edition of Bill Monroe's "Blue Night." I think the audience would agree that feelin' blue never felt so good.
In the band's Johnny-and-June tune, "Don't Ask Me to Explain," Scott-Sinclair and Miller sizzled with a Cash-and-Carter-like energy, which got a spontaneous ovation for the wild and creative banjo break.
The scariest moment of the noon-time concert came when the bass player did what sidemen are prone to do, got the group to let him sing lead, in this case on "Wreck of the Old 97." Happily, it was not a train wreck -- and neither was "Mecklenburg Train," the band’s heart-rending original set in 1860's North Carolina.
Lower-key songs included Miller and Scott-Sinclair’s haunting "Restless Wind" as well as 1780's favorites "Fair and Tender Ladies" and "Wayfarin' Stranger" and what has a shot at being one of the year's top-rated, bassist-authored lullabies, the afternoon's finale, "Rock-a-Baby."
Gary D. Gaddy, the author of this review, is said to look a lot like the bass player in Up Cane Creek, but it's hard to know since he wore shades the whole gig. (Go to UpCaneCreek.com to listen to several of the band's original songs.)
A version of this story was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday October 9, 2009.
Copyright 2009 Gary D. Gaddy