What a difference a couple of days, and a couple of hundred miles make. When Gillian Welch and David Rawlings performed in Charlotte last Friday night at the Neighborhood Theatre, apparently not everyone at the venue was totally focused on listening to the duo’s old-timey songs, because at some point during the show Welch apparently asked the crowd, “Don’t you want to tell the people at the bar to shut the f**k up?” My friend Denise, who attended that show in North Carolina, says she just about wet herself laughing at the unexpected question from the artist.
After traveling south to Charleston, Rawlings and Welch had some time to relax in the Holy City on Saturday, and apparently the day off did them some good. By the time the two musicians stepped onstage at the Charleston Music Hall on Sunday night, they were all smiles. Kicking off the first of two sets with “Orphan Girl” from Welch’s 1996 debut, “Revival,” the duo stopped frequently between songs to revel in their experiences while exploring Charleston. At one point they told a story of walking right through a downtown ghost tour in progress, and Welch is apparently a big fan of our stone sidewalks. They also talked about having to explain what they did for a living to several people at a restaurant community table. “Oh, you play folk music?” quipped Welch, “Yeah, kind of on the dark side. A lot of people die.”
While it’s true that a lot of Welch’s and Rawlings’ music is a bit on the dark side, it’s quite popular nonetheless. Many know Welch from her work on the “O‘ Brother Where Art Thou?” soundtrack. She even made a cameo in the popular Coen Brothers film, playing a record store customer asking for a copy of “Man of Constant Sorrow” by the Soggy Bottom Boys. The music of Welch and Rawlings brings to mind the Depression-era songs of the 1930s, and the two artists have been working together for years, perfecting their craft, and carving out a niche in the music business that gets bigger with each new album.
At Sunday night’s show, there was no need to tell anyone to be quiet. While the time between songs was often filled with requests for various songs, the near sellout crowd was polite and attentive, although there was much hooting in anticipation every time Welch switched out her guitar for a banjo. The musicians seemed to thrive from the noise, and early on, Welch encouraged folks to let loose, and have a good time.
The first set included songs such as “Scarlet Town,” “Pallet,” “Annabelle,” “Red Clay Halo,” and a personal favorite, “Elvis Presley Blues.”
After a short intermission Welch and Rawlings returned for the stage, with Welch exclaiming “Welcome back!” More great music followed, including “I Want to Sing that Rock and Roll,” “Hard Times,” and “Down the Dixie Line.” Rawlings‘ guitar solo on “Revelator” nearly brought the house down. Equally fun was the performance of “Six White Horses,” which the pair performed at a single microphone with Rawlings playing banjo and harmonica and Welch slapping her knees and thighs in time before backing away from the mike for a little clogging on the wood stage. Later songs included yodeling, and an great rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.”
For the first encore, the pair once again thanked their fans for a great evening, with Welch saying, “As long as you keep coming out, we’ll keep coming back.” Performances of “Look at Miss Ohio” and the traditional “I’ll Fly Away” followed, and the twosome couldn’t resist one more encore after that for a spirited cover of “Jackson” that would have made June Carter and Johnny Cash proud.
Charleston has always proven to have a large contingent of Gillian Welch fans, and the love being exchanged between player and spectator was obvious. The Charleston Music Hall, one of my favorite places in town to see a show, was the perfect venue for this performance. Best of all, the bar located next to the stage actually closes prior to the performances at the Charleston Music Hall, so there was no chance of a repeat of what happened up in Charlotte.