Over the years I have learned to trust my own musical instincts, especially when it comes to trying something new or unfamiliar. This week I’ve been in Charlotte, North Carolina on non-music business, but with evenings free I knew there had to be some music out there to discover.
On a Monday in Charlotte, the best place to go for the past few years has been the open mike night at the Evening Muse, a charming small venue in the North Davidson neighborhood. I’ve been there in the past, so that’s the first place I decided to check out upon checking in that morning.
I’ll leave the discussion of the various merits of an open-mike night to some other time and just say that there were some excellent performers and some not-so-excellent ones. The real treat came, however, in the night’s “featured performer” slot, a point where an artist or band is allowed a longer set. Not having been to the Muse much, I’m not sure if it’s usually local or an out-of-town act, but on this particular Monday it was a Washington, D.C. group, Scythian, and they were good enough to make up for any amount of tone-deaf Avett Brother covers or Jewel impersonations earlier in the night.
Scythian bills themselves as “Celtic With an Edge,” but they’re so much more than that, really. With ethnic origins from the Ukraine to Austria to Jordan, and a little Irish blood mixed in, the band travels through so many different sounds and styles that by the end of the set I was reeling from a case of musical whiplash.
Like Seven Nations or Loch Ness Johnny, two other groups that mix Celtic and rock effectively, Scythian relies heavily on fiddle sounds–the difference, however, is that they frequently use two of them in a twin fiddle setup that one doesn’t usually see outside of old-time music festivals or the occasional bluegrass instrumental. With all the bows sawing back and forth at breakneck speeds it’s a wonder that somebody doesn’t get an eye put out or something during their set.
With only a thirty to forty minute framework, Scythian took the sedate Monday night crowd aback from the start with a fierce twin fiddle instrumental and rarely let up on the intensity after that with polka and gypsy songs thrown in among the more obviously Irish-inspired tunes. By set’s end the crowd was on their feet, clapping in rhythm and even stomping their feet, chairs forgotten for the moment.
It’s those moments of forgetfulness that keep me searching for music even when it’s not an assignment–I can forget what I’m doing in town and just enjoy a performance, getting as giddy as the musicians and the rest of the crowd; it doesn’t matter that I have to get up early for meetings the next day. For those moments, the music really is all that matters.
Enjoying great music has always been the easy part–it’s the finding of it that’s difficult. Much has been written about the future of music distribution, but what it boils down to is this: Those who make music need to get connected with those who enjoy it, and that requires action from both sides. My active seeking out of music in this case resulted in me experiencing a great band I’d never heard before. Now, I’m distributing that knowledge to you (the classic word-of-mouth, transferred exponentially online) and if you like them, you’ll in turn let somebody else know.
That’s how music fans can help out musicians, before they even spend a dime on a CD or a download–if you like it, tell somebody.