Sunday was the day the “heat dome” officially broke over the Northeastern U.S. And what better way could there have been to celebrate than to finally venture out from the safety of central air conditioning in order to catch a show at Holyoke’s Mountain Park Amphitheater.
Fortunately, this past weekend saw the start of the summer season at the venue, and after an opening night premiere featuring alternative country legend Lucinda Williams and singer/ songwriter Amos Lee, the stage was set for Alison Krauss and Union Station to play on Sunday evening.
Beginning their set shortly after 8:30 p.m., the renowned bluegrass group opened with the title track to their latest release Paper Airplane, which landed in record stores in April.
From there, the word of the night quickly became musicianship as each member of the band, Krauss included, took their turn in the spotlight during the 2 hour and 22 song concert.
Though guitarist and singer Dan Tyminksi waited until near the end of the show to unleash his crowd-pleasing favorite “I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow” from the soundtrack to the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, an early standout moment was his duet with Krauss on the ballad “Wild Bill Jones.”
Since the tone of that particular track was a bit depressing, Krauss felt an explanation was in order after the band finished playing it.
“We’re sad people,” she said. “So we really like that last song because it gets everything in there that we could possibly want.”
“It has somebody getting dumped, and somebody riding a lonesome train. Somebody drinking, probably smoking, and then somebody kills somebody. And then somebody else is about to die. So it just gets it all wrapped up.”
Fortunately, not every moment during the concert was wrought with such potentially dour material.
One joyous highlight from later on in the night was dobro player and audience favorite Jerry Douglas, who remained on stage while the rest of the band took a short break so he could play an instrumental set, which he introduced by lamenting his loss of an opportunity earlier in the day.
“I really wanted to take a ride today down in this really nice park down here, but the tire on my bicycle went flat. What a drag. I should’ve brought it to one of you, you could’ve maybe fixed it. But too late now.”
Of course, after Douglas’ turn in charge the attention, as always, quickly returned to Krauss, who not only recreated the sound of such studio-recorded songs as “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” and “Let Me Touch You for Awhile” with near-perfect accuracy, but also joked with the crowd in between numbers.
For instance, upon introducing banjo player Ron Block as being from Torrance, California, Krauss quickly quipped, “Where they make all the vegetarians,” before mocking Block’s occasional lapses into the eating of bacon and ham.
Eventually as the show wound to a close, the group exited the stage only to quickly return in a super-stripped down fashion to play standing close together on a corner of the performance area.
In front of a large backdrop, which played a video of a train puffing its way down the track, the encore began with versions of “When You Say Nothing at All,” Down to the River to Pray,” and “Your Long Journey” before closing with “There Is A Reason.”
Interestingly, given the fact they were playing in an outdoor venue, one could almost hear a pin drop during these closing moments as those in attendance sat silently appreciating the skilled musicians in front of them. A token of respect definitely, but as I’m sure those who were there would tell you, I also couldn’t imagine a better way to beat the heat.
Meanwhile, earlier in the day opening act Jeremy Lister provided a brief but enjoyable set of tunes that consisted of him singing and playing acoustic guitar while his brother Richie sang backup. Though his start was delayed by what he claimed was “3 hours of traffic,” the Nashville native showed a lot of promise and likely earned some new fans in the process.
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