Plum Creek Plays Folky Tunes
Veteran folkies in the Plum Creek String Band tuned up their fiddles and banjos for a night of laid-back roots music this past Tuesday night at the Cat in the Cream. In keeping with the longstanding tradition of folk music’s close ties with political activism, the event was billed as a fundraising benefit for medical services in Iraq. The quartet is comprised of current and former members of the Oberlin community. Surrounded by close friends, family and local fans, the band played a fine set of original songs and familiar tunes from the canon of American and Celtic folk music, a genre whose presence is somewhat lacking on campus these days.
The band, comprised of fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass and drums, officially formed in the summer of 2004, though members of Plum Creek had previously played together on and off in various incarnations. Recently, they were the featured band for Oberlin’s Dandelion Romp held in Hales Gym, a contra dance festival sponsored by the Oberlin Contra Dance Club. Currently, the band is also performing in small venues throughout Ohio and North Carolina, where two of the five band members reside.
Unfortunately for the Plum Creek String Band, longtime bassist and collaborator Marion Parker, OC ’04, was unable to perform on Tuesday due to a family emergency. Though the lack of harmonic support did compromise the band’s sound significantly, they displayed a very positive attitude and made the best of the situation. Guitarist Jamie Davis, OC ’05, did a fine job of filling out the low end on several tunes, as Bruce Comings, OC ’05, complemented his chordal work with solid banjo picking. Master fiddler and Oberlin professor Eric Stewart carried the more challenging melodies with ease, while percussionist Conservatory junior Stefan Amidon kept the pace rolling with his attentive percussion. Amidon recently appeared on an episode of NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion as a member of the Sweetback Sisters, who came in second place on Garrison Keillor’s first annual competition for folk musicians in their twenties. The band lost by just sixteen votes.
Playing to a somewhat sleepy Tuesday night crowd (must have been those warm cookies and tea), the band itself sounded a little fatigued in comparison to past shows.
“I’m actually sick as a dog right now,” admitted the soft-spoken fiddler Eric Stewart. “But we’re just gonna keep on playin’ for ya.”
The standout numbers for the evening included a beautiful version of Johnny Cash’s classic “Dark as a Dungeon” and a nice interpretation of “Been All Around this World,” a traditional played frequently by the Grateful Dead in the early ’80s. Also memorable was an original instrumental that appeared early on in the set, a colorful sea shanty in which the band really came together dynamically. There were some initial problems with the sound levels, particularly in the vocals, but these issues were ironed out by about the third or fourth song.
Overall, this was a very mellow but engaging performance, strengthened by the band’s excellent song selection and friendly stage demeanor. It’s hard to remember a single moment when any of the band members stopped smiling, though the absence of Parker on the bass was clearly felt. Be sure to check out the Plum Creek String Band at this year’s annual Folk Fest on May 5.