How many artists, besides the late Johnny Cash, open with a prison song? Roots and blues musician Woody Pines probably found himself in an exclusive club when he started off a recent Orange Peel set with the song “99 Years.”
The thing about Pines (whose band borrows its front man’s stage name) is that he’s such a consummate player, such an upbeat personality, that not only can he get away with such a stunt, he can turn the concept of hard time into party time. (All things considered, that style could well be prime for a resurgence.)
Pines, when he’s not logging tour miles (and he tours near-constantly: His MySpace page boasts that “He left home with his guitar on his back and made it through 49 states before he was 19.”) can often be found busking around downtown Asheville. He brings that low-key street corner style of performance to his stage show, but with all the polish and seasoned professionalism of a tour-bus-and-green-room rock stardom.
If Pines’ elegantly-disheveled fedora and vintage resonator guitar don’t set the mood (both are strongly suggestive of the musician’s mix of ragtime, country blues and lightning-speed folk), the backing band does the trick. Sometimes known as The Lonesome Two (standup bassist Zack Pozebanchuk and kit-drummer Rennie Elliot), the band was expanded for the opening slot at the Orange Peel—a local showcase—with the addition of Pisgah Forest fiddler Darrin Gentry and New Orleans multi-instrumentalist Aurora Nealand.
Nealand’s accordion provided plenty of gypsy-eque ambiance, but it was her fiery turns on tenor sax—especially on a Depression-era number—that elevated the Woody Pines set to the next level. Nealand, with recently cropped hair, looks like Bob Dylan’s love child and plays like an all-state band champ who took to hopping trains and frequenting speakeasies.
In fact, every member of Woody Pines seems storied and steeped in the best of Americana (the culture, not the alt-country musical genre). While some classical training is likely, these musicians ooze authenticity and passion with each note.
Crackerjack musicianship goes a long way toward a band’s greatness, but showmanship seals the deal. Pines, on stage, is an old soul and natural performer, unabashed on kazoo, easily engaging the audience (“Let us be the first band to play you your first Halloween song of the year,” he said—this was a January concert—before launching into spooky Appalachian tune “Red Rocking Chair”), and even managing to pull off a sing-along. A feat for any band; monumental for an opener.
Woody Pines’ Orange Peel show can be viewed at www.myspace.com/woodypines. Catch the band at Mo Daddy’s on Friday, March 6 (Info: 258-1550).