The all-star holiday lineup of Cascadia Yulegrass, brought together by Jason Mastrine, brought it's show to the beautiful McDonald Theatre in Eugene, Oregon. It was an idea that Jason had been orchestrating for years, and had finally come to fruition. The lineup for this inagural even consisted of fiddle master Darol Anger taking the lead, String Cheese Indident's Bill Nershi (lap steel and guitar) and Keith Moseley (bass), Scott Law (guitar, mandolin), and Sharon Gilchrest (mandolin). Also present were guest appearances by Billy's wife Jillian Nershi, Matt Butler on light percussion, and a trio of young fiddlers to accompany Anger.
This project provided an all ages chance for music lovers to see some of their favorite artists give a spiritual, but not religiously invasive, night of acoustic holiday music. A very important part of the success of these shows was to make the audience understand that it was a listeners event. It was very important for people to keep the chatter down, so that the desired effect of the acoustic harmonies and melodies could be fully understood.. The McDonald theatre made this possible, with fans entering to see the packed house with everybody in their seats.
As the band took the stage the audience was introduced to 17 year old Alex Hargreaves (2009 Grandmaster Fiddle champion), and Tashina Clarridge (Grandmaster runner-up, respectively) also on fiddle. Moseley stepped up, and with his warm soothing voice began singing the opening lines of Let It Snow. This song set the vibe for the night, moving into the second tune called Roses In Snow. Following the swings and sways of the opening songs, crowd chatter was rising which spurred a burst of "sshhhh" and "shut up" from the crowd. Some giggled it off, some smiled, some were offended, but ultimately everybody got the point and full attention was given to Scott Law. Known well in the state of Oregon, he presented his rendition of Greensleeves, an traditional folk tune with a holiday feel. A highlight of the show for me, the band jammed this on out giving it an almost funky, very jazzy, and meditative mood drawing a large round of applause from the audience.
The band stuck with the this mood through a few more songs and eventually brought to the stage Alex's younger sister Tatiana Hargreaves, who Nershi claimed was in the back finishing up her homework. The crowd was captivated by the trio of young fiddlers, which featured Alex on a fiddle tune called Golden Eagle. By this time, the band had the full attention of the audience.
It was then time for the soft spoken Sharon Gilchrist to take the mike, performing a tune called Walker, originally by Uncle Earl. Sharon's voice is a lot like her mandolin playing, softly delicate and enchanting. The tune carried a sad feel and Sharon's bright voice complimented it perfectly, leaving the crowd in a surreal moment.
Everybody was still in their seats, but not for long. Moseley started in on the easily recognizable bass line for the String Cheese song 'Round The Wheel, and instantly the front of the stage was filled with dancing fans and smiling faces. Matt Butler accompanied the song nicely on djembe, while Jillian Nershi provided backup vocals and led the dancing from the stage. The first set provided something for everybody, and this one allowed for some hooting and hollering, singing along, and dancing. This acoustic version was spot on leaving everybody on stage and crowd in a full smile.
As the second set began, everybody was seated again ready for another round of string music. The band eased the crowd with a few more jazzy and melodic jams which were very well played. Then came the intro of the dreamy and noodling notes of Land's End, which was easily recognized by String Cheese fans who again twirled to the dance floor. This time security politely escorted everybody back to their seats by request of the band, in respect of the people seated in the front rows. Again, some were taken back by this, but for the most part people understood and sat down, or danced on the sides of the theatre.
It was then time for 14 year old Tatiana Hargreaves to take the spotlight, taking the lead on a Jewish fiddle tune called Shalom. Everybody was in awe of her ability at such a young age, leaving Darol Anger gleaming in pride. Shalom was segued into Breakin' Up, with Tatiana stepping up and ripping this fast paced jig. She was rained with cheers and whistles, and shyly dipped behind the curtain to the appreciative round of applause from the crowd.
It was nearing the end of the set and Billy stepped up to make an announcement. He proclaimed that since everybody was quiet and understanding of the circumstances, the invitation was open to raid the dance floor for the rest of the set. String Cheese fans were again delighted to hear a Nershi favorite Good Times Around The Bend, with Moseley taking the vocals (Let Keith Sing!).
The next night, Cascadia Yulegrass brought their show to Portland's Wonder Ballroom. People entered to see the Wonder quite a bit different than they were used to. Underneath the ballroom was a unique holiday mall of local vendors, giving a chance for some to purchase gifts that support local businesses. Inside the ballroom the front area was decked out with VIP couches for people to comfortably lounge, and many rows of chairs directly behind.
The show would feature the same setlist, which was mostly understood. The ideology was to provide a holiday production for people from many different walks of life to enjoy, instead of filling the shows with different covers.
Jason Mastrine started the show with an introduction of how the idea came together for him, and the process of making it happen. It was obvious that he had put a lot of thought, love, and care into this project. The idea was ten years in the making for him, and this show was special because of Portland being his hometown, and much of the band's hometown.
The show started the same, but there was one obvious difference. The Wonder Ballroom is equipped with a bar in the balcony, and the standing room was behind the couches and chairs. This led to a lot more crowd noise, and a little rowdier crowd. Although much thought and preparation had been made for this, it was very hard to balance the listening and chatting of family and friends that were having a good time.
Following another great rendition of Greensleeves, Darol Anger introduced his own song titled Piacenza Waltz. The setlist included many songs that weren't strictly titled as holiday songs, but carried the vibe of the holiday spirit. This one included, Anger led the way through the tune that was inspired by Italian food. Bill Nershi then sang Hard Times, which was introduced by a fiddle overture performed by Anger and the three fiddle prodigies.
When it came time for Sharon Gilchrist to perform her song, it was obvious that the talking crowd had gotten a little out of control. By any means, Sharon is too soft spoken to take control and quiet things down. Nershi stepped up explaining that he understands everybody is having a good time, but things need to quiet down for the show to continue. This brought a round of cheers and applause from most of the audience, causing the witty Nershi to boast "I said be quiet! Just kidding." It took a minute, but things calmed down enough for Sharon to begin her song. This again led to 'Round the Wheel, allowing the "rowdies" to have their moment to end the first set.
To begin the second set Jason Mastrine again took the stage. In what he said was a very difficult thing for himself to do, he urged the crowd to try and keep the noise levels down for the second set. He went on to explain that he wants everybody to have a good time, but the acoustic music is very hard to fully hear with the amount of noise being produced. The message was well received and respected allowing the start of the second set.
Things began smoothly, leading to Law taking over to sing a cover of Norweigen Wood originally by the Beatles. Tatiana Hargreaves again wowed the crowd with Shalom>Breakin' Up. She had full attention of the crowd, and an even greater attention from the other members of the band. They were all smiles on stage, with everybody reveling in the special moment they were sharing. This part of the show was a defining moment of Mastrine's idea, as excellent music played by young and old was shared with fans young and old in the holiday spirit.
Nershi again stepped up and announced that it was time to get on the train. To many String Cheese fans the instant thought was that Johnny Cash was on the way, but Billy usually has a few tricks up his sleeve. "It's not the Johnny Cash train I'm talkin' about, it's the Loooove Train." A newer Nershi tune, Love Is Like A Train was on the way with Jillian providing backup vocals. With the three members of Honkytonk Homeslice taking up the middle of the stage, Nershi and Law battled their way through the tune with Anger providing his fiddle chops and train harmonies. Scott Law couldn't help himself and had to share that it was his favorite song of Nershi's, a very bold statement.
Keith Moseley took the chance to thank everybody for being attentive because it is rare for them as musicians to play a show with a listener audience. His speech was perhaps a gentle way of reminding everybody to try and keep it down, and give full attention for Sharon Gilchrist to sing another song. Sharon took the chance to sing a song of her own called Finest Things, which was written for her father in retrospect to the advice he gave her while she was growing up. It was a very heart-felt performance leaving all eyes on stage.
It was time for more holiday music and the band broke into It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, a christmas staple. This once again led to Good Time Around The Bend, in which Moseley expressed his pleasure in singing Nershi songs. By then the crowd was again restless and excited to hear one of their favorites, and security had a tough time holding people from rushing to the front of the stage. Cool heads prevailed, and the set came to an end to the standing ovation of the crowd.
The band returned to the stage for their encore of I Shall Be Released, a Bob Dylan cover. With everybody on stage singing vocals for the closer, it was truly a touching moment. The song was sequeled into Chinquapin Hunting, a fiddle tune that allowed a final showcase of the fiddle power on stage. It was obviously difficult for the band to leave the stage from their final set of the five day Northwest tour. It was a rare chance for them to play a show of this type, and their joy was genuine.
In the end it was a very successful run. Both shows played to a large crowd that came off as well received. Those who came in expecting to see a ripping show might have been a little disappointed, however there were points in the show for everybody. It was all about the jazzy grass jams, some holiday staples, some fan favorites, and an introduction of some young fiddlers of the future. Planned to the an annual event, be ready to catch another Cascadia Yulegrass lineup next holiday season.
SET ONE- Let it Snow, Roses in Snow, Greensleaves, Piacenza Waltz, Hard Times, Golden Eagle, Walker>Hungary, 'Round the Wheel
SET TWO- D Set, Roving>Land's End, Norwegian Wood, Shalom>Breakin' Up, Love is Like a Train, Finest Things>Walk Along, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, Good Times Around the Bend