Woodsongs Finally "Poked"

L T Blakley

Three albums, an accompanying backing band, a couple European tours, and a performance at the Newport Folk Festival later, one-time Louisvillian and old-timey/ragtime troubadour Pokey LaFarge, with The South City Three, has finally graced the stage at the Kentucky Theatre in Lexington for a taping of Woodsongs (www.woodsongs.com). The band is promoting their new Jack White-produced 45 (vinyl) including a Pokey original "Pack It Up," with an album, Middle of Everywhere, to follow this summer.

Woodsongs is an eleven-year-old all-volunteer television/radio/internet program that showcases great music and artists. As founder Michael Johnathon puts it: "You don't have to be famous to be on Woodsongs. You just have to be very, very good." Seen on television, the room is a deceptively large theater; in person, it's a nice intimate venue, and one worth making a pilgrimage to for quality music.

LaFarge, acoustic guitar in tow, shared the bill with Sierra Hull and Highway 111, with the evening alternating between the two. Hull's previous Woodsongs appearance – as a kid – was with Sam Bush. Now 19, Hull has released her new album Daybreak. Backed by upright bass, fiddle, two acoustic guitars and her own mandolin, Hull delivered bluegrass-folky songs, including "Easy Come, Easy Go," a brisk, lively, foot-tapping instrumental "Bombshell," the slow but pretty title cut, and an up-tempo tune "What Do You Say?" with Hull smokin' on mandolin. A very talented, charming young woman.

Pokey and the boys kicked off their segment with the chorus-catchy "La La Blues" from Riverboat Soul, with Ryan Koenig playing one hot harmonica. Still the consummate performer, Pokey's alto-tenor voice was loud, strong, passionate and dynamic. However, the sound in general seemed muted but clear, perhaps due to it being mixed for broadcasting. In between numbers, Pokey discussed his grandfathers' influence on his musical tastes, the personal importance of Folk Singer by Muddy Waters, his affinity for old clothes, watered-down modern music, and spoke lovingly of Kentucky as "the most beautiful state in the Union" in which he "spent some of the best years of [his] life . .. .." They also performed "Pack It Up" with a punchy opening riff and some nice intricate lead work on guitar by Adam Hoskins. "Feel So Good," from the upcoming album, showcased their fantastic skills on their respective instruments. On "Head to Toe," also from the forthcoming release, the limelight landed upon Koenig and his amazing "acoustromaphonic": washboard festooned with bell, plates, etc., that the audience enjoyed. Heads were bobbing, no doubt fingers and toes tapping as well; it would be unnatural and a total abomination otherwise. Many times the audience erupted into excited clapping, rending the applause sign hanging high above the stage unnecessary.

During an encore, Hull and Highway 111 performed "Best Buy." Then Pokey and company finished the evening with "Move Out of Town," a tremendous, playful and short jam featuring outstanding bass work from Joey Glynn, a copy-cat game between Koenig on harmonica and Hoskins on guitar plus some slide work, amounting to a musical foosball match. The show ended with powerful applause, proving that their musical genre is not far removed from present times: people clapping and hollering the way they must have done seventy-plus years ago when they heard the same kind of music.

It's been inspiring watching the ascending career of this young, handsome, acoustic quartet imbued with the spirit of danceable, joyful, foot-stomp-inducing, trouble-slaying ragtime, blues, and old-timey music merrymaking. They continue rescuing and keeping alive Americana/roots style from the music business trash compactor that is corporate radio and American Idol schlock. They do their idols, the originators of American music, proud.