Thursday, March 26, 2015 was not a day I would have gone to a show under the circumstances presented. I normally hate when writers use their personal sob stories to generate a mood for their pieces. However, considering I knew the person who passed away for the final six years of his seven-year-battle with cancer (R.I.P. Dov – “C.F.D.”), and the fact that I’ve also been a person who believes that music can be an amazing form of therapy, I am pleased to report that the show performed by Hurray For The Riff Raff and Adia Victoria at The State Room that day was exactly what the doctor ordered.
The night began with Adia Victoria taking the stage with her backing band—composed of guitarist/home-town hero Mason Hickman, bassist Jason Harris and drummer Tiffany Minton—and immediately played a set that will forever be etched into my memory. She was utterly captivating. From the moment she went into her set until the last notes died out from her last song (“Stuck In The South,” an ode to the racism that Victoria has encountered while living in Nashville, which she appropriately dedicated to Michael Brown), she owned the stage.
Her music, which is oftentimes miscategorized as “country” or “alt-country,” would best be described as a hybrid of Muddy Waters meets a surf/rockabilly band while the sound reverberates off the walls of a jazz nightclub in Harlem at midnight. Those sounds soak in the smooth grooves of a Miles Davis or a little John Coltrane like a distilled spirit turns into whiskey after soaking up the char from an oak barrel. Vocally, Victoria sounded like a cross-between Ché Aimee Dorval and Alanis Morissette. Listening to her and her band was like hearing the aforementioned Waters for the first time and having it hit that spot that lets you know that, no matter what life throws at you, there is sorrow in all of us sharing in the human experience. That last line may be overly romantic, but either you get it or you don’t.
Highlights included “Sea Of Sand,” which was played with much more groove than on the E.P. that shares its name and “Invisible Hands.” The latter track was my personal favorite of the evening. It had so much of an old-school jazz rhythm to it, that Victoria was taken over by the need to dance and vamp it up, pretty admirably, at the front of the stage.
After Victoria’s set, the almost sold-out crowd lined up at the front of the stage to catch the night’s main act, Hurray For The Riff Raff. HFTRR is the brain child of vocalist/guitarist Alynda Lee Segarra, who was accompanied by a very accomplished backing band of her own, known as the “music collective.”
I loved them. Listening to them was like listening to the equivalent of a musical child brought forth from the combining of Joni Mitchell, Tanya Tucker and Ryan Shupe & the Rubberband. Each song held something different and unique. But with that said, there was definitely a common theme throughout the set; folk-like bluegrass played in a honky-tonk. The songs that exemplified this the most were “Slow Walk” and “I Know It’s Wrong (But That’s Alright).” The highlight of the show, however, was “The Body Electric.” It had a definite melodic progression that would make you feel that someone hired The Beatles to do some bluegrass at the honky-tonk that HFTRR can usually be found in.
Watching Segarra throughout the performance reminded me of what a good entertainer should be able to do: make you forget about life for a while and focus on someone or something else. She was fun, upbeat and smiling, looking like she was in the middle of one of the journeys that comprise the lyrics to many of her traveling songs. It was like she didn’t have a single care in the entire world.
Every musician in Segarra’s collective was able to keep up with her bouncy demeanor and playing throughout the night. She would often address the crowd and talk about the things she enjoyed about our beautiful part of the world. She would also introduce her songs with personal anecdotes, running the gamut of writing music while waiting in Germany during a traffic accident to what it’s like to love someone and lose them and the hurt it can cause. All of this culminated in the final song, “Little Black Star,” a crowd favorite that had many of those in attendance dancing with reckless abandon. Everyone left the show with a smile, me included.
Sometimes life tosses you obstacles in a way that is designed to see how you respond. Sometimes we crumble, and sometimes we rise up to the challenge … and sometimes we learn that we aren’t alone—that there is someone out there who has been dealt the same crap that you have, and they are slugging it out with as much ferocity as you are. I can tell you that you need look no further than the artists this piece is about. Check them out and I can promise you that the troubles plaguing your life will be lifted, at least for the few hours you allow them to take you away.