Friday night Rogue Valley debuted their latest CD radiate/dissolve at the Fitzgerald Theater. They had some amazing support from the local music scene. It was like a mini Music on a Stick – except in comfy, velvety theatre chairs, not baking in the Grandstand sun.
The new work has a distinctly Western sound, not country, not Americana but Western. It’s also modern and popular but the guitar often has a Western movie feel (Host) and the addition of horns gives a Mexican flare. The stage helped set the tone too, bare but with a backdrop of lighting that looked like a Western sky – sometimes starry, sometime dawn or dusk. And there was a video shown on a crinkled cloud about the stage. It provided a nice feature and at times (such as Bury Your Heart) helped punctuate the mood of the song.
They opened their set with The Brightest Stars, accompanied by Prairie Fire Lady Choir, a group of dozens women who like to sing. And sing very well. Luckily the Fitz stage is huge. They were able to stroll, make their mark and stroll out for a few songs. Rogue Valley didn’t need them but it was a collaboration that made the music even better.
That was the theme for the night– collaboration makes everything better. We saw collaboration on stage – with Rogue Valley (and Prairie Fire Lady Choir and the powerful horn section) an certainly with Laurel String Quartet. It sounds like their process making this album started the long road of collaboration. Songwriter and front man Chris Koza introduced new songs to the band slowly, and the group luxuriated in a deliberate, leisurely process with no deadlines, developing the songs more together between touring. It’s made their music richer.
Other stand out songs – the upbeat Pulse, featuring Linnea Mohn singing (as well as playing keyboards). It’s catchy. Peter Sieve gets a little psychedelic on the guitar in breathe and the stage version ended in a great cacophony of strings and horns. Finally Transference is a great showpiece for Koza’s voice. His voice always reminds me of Simon and Garfunkel, even on a song that has more hints of Cloud Cult than Me and Julio.
The “warm up” acts weren’t bad either. The Laurel String Quartet started alone on stage with a world premiere of Adam Conrad’s Vignettes for Laurels. What a great piece for that location. Then the Laurels invited a stream of well-known musicians to join them and they made better every song by adding the depth of classical musicians. Jeremy Messersmith started with A Girl A Boy and A Graveyard. My 12 year old date could had skipped the graveyard and gone straight to heaven with that! Joe Horton gave his breathy poetic tunes. He has such a command of any stage. Nana Marie Invie, Aby Wolf and others also appeared with reigned operatic voices. And Chastity Brown sang about the heart and Colorado and talked about Black Lives Matter.
I have heard Chastity Brown speak eloquently on race and sexism before. Last night she made a point to thank while allies for their support of Black Lives Matters. It was a generous and important message to the pretty white room. A room that I suspect largely supports Black Lives Matters – but a room full of Minnesotans who need to be told they are welcome, not because we have to be at the center but we need to know we’re not in the way. It’s a well-played note that Koza thanked her for making too.