Snake Oil Medicine Show

Twice Told; March 6

By Marty Rosen

The Snake Oil Medicine Show is one funky bunch of skilletlickers.

I'd heard the Boone, North Carolina-based band during their whirlwind tour of Louisville in January (when they played the Rud, Air Devils, and Twice Told), and after suffering through a miserable cold in February, I figured a hefty dose of Snake Oil Medicine was just the ticket to get me back on my feet. I arrived early at Twice Told on March 6, and, knowing what to expect, prudently selected a seat in the back along with the other sedentary types (the Juggernaut Jug Band might not like being characterized as sedentary, but they were in the back, too). Wise move: midway through the second tune, the rambunctious fans up front succumbed to the party concept, started stacking tables at the side of the room, and created a sort of mini-moshpit.

Why not? Who can blame an audience for not being able to sit still when any given tune might open as a furious hoedown, segue into James Brown-style funk, pay homage to Glenn Miller or Thelonious Monk, and morph into a minor key gypsy rave-up--all before reaching the bridge, which might be cast as a celtic reel? And if the description sounds chaotic, it pales next to the reality. A Snake Oil Medicine Show show has more whoops and plummets than a roller coaster, but the engineeering is sturdy enough to bring everybody home safely, if a bit winded.

In January, SOMS was a five piece unit, but the whole ensemble, including drums and keyboards made the March trip, increasing the unit size to seven: George Pond (guitar), Caroline Pond (fiddle), Andy Pond (banjo), Jason Krekel (mandolin), Jay Sanders (acoustic and electric bass), Steve Peterson (drums), and Aaron Price (keyboards). For much of the first set the band was augmented by Jason's father, Louisville-based singer/songwriter Tim Krekel (who commemorated the recent floods by singing a fine original about the old K & I Bridge over the Ohio). In addition, my younger sibling, Jim Rosen, joined in on harp for a steaming rendition of the Dixieland classic "Hold That Tiger." If you're counting, that means there were nine people on the Twice Told stage. If you've been to the Twice Told you understand that this is no mean feat (if you haven't caught a show at the Twice Told you're either new in town or you just don't care about music, so why are you reading LMN?).

Most of the delightfully loopy lyrics (Lewis Carroll might be an influence) were sung by George and Caroline (who shines when she puts on her come-hither smile and slinks into kinky Berlin cabaret mode, as she did on "La Baile de la Desposada"). Instrume ntally, the band was as loose, splashy, and fun as a swimming pool on a hot July afternoon. Lots of bluegrass and string bands play covers of Cream (or whatever) tunes in a pathetic pretense of hip, but I don't think I've ever heard a band more capable o f seamlessly incorporating diverse styles into an organic whole, without sounding strained or affected. It's pretty clear that their commitment to fun is matched by an equally strong commitment to mining the best of American (and Brazilian, and European) roots music and melting it into something fresh and vigorous.

Don't miss them when they return; in the meantime, I understand the CD is available at local stores. Take a dose of Snake Oil Medicine and call me in the morning.