Peter Rowan’s Twang an’ Groove do plenty of twangin’ and plenty of groovin’.
But before the group got down to businesses, frontman Rowan began his sold-out show at Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peach Ranch with a couple of solo-acoustic entries, kicking off the first of two 55-minute sets with “Doc Watson Morning,” one of many tributes the veteran bluegrass musician would pay during the evening.
Once one of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, a co-founder of Old & In the Way and author of classics including “Midnight Moonlight” and New Riders of the Purple Sage’s signature song, “Panama Red,” both of which were played toward the tail end of Set Two, Rowan has been a part of some of bluegrass’ most-important 20th-century moments. He’ll be 76 on the Fourth of July, but his hands are still supple, his voice still able to climb to high-and-lonesome heights with his yodel intact, as his version of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel No. 3” demonstrated.
And when he drops his arms and shakes his hips while one or another of his bandmates solos, Rowan is proof of music’s fountain-of-youth properties.
Surprise guest Don Rigsby – the featured mandolinist on Rowan’s just-released Carter Stanley’s Eyes – played most of the show with Rowan and his band. And together they brought so much history to Pomeroy that even Kaukonen was walking around with a permanent smile, snapping photos like a besotted fan. Bassist Paul Knight and percussionist Jamie Oldaker – who spent the evening demonstrating the effectiveness of a brushed snare and tambourine – laid down the groove while Rowan, Rigsby and, especially, lap- and pedal-steel guitarist Dave Easley brought the twang.
Rowan spent Set One on an unplugged acoustic he held up to his mic for solos as he and the band worked their way through tracks from the new LP, 2017’s My Aloha!and, covers including Alison Krauss’ “Tiny Broken Heart” and Lead Belly’s “In the Pines.” Paired with Rigsby, who shared a mic with the elder statesman and followed his leads as they arranged on the fly, Rowan sung like a man half his age and seemed inspired to fire off riffs in an effort to keep up with Rigsby, who pushed the band to high heights, while Easley – on a Weissenborn guitar – added haunting fills and occasional solos.
The second half found Rowan on a hollow-body electric while Easley stuck to pedal steel; he was the MVP of the second half, making his instrument cry and howl and filling the tiny Fur Peace Station with otherworldly, tuneful sounds only the best players can pull off without intruding. Despite a persistent buzz from Rowan’s axe between songs, the electricity in the instruments translated well as the quintet run through tracks such as “Land of the Navajo,” which found Rowan closing his eyes and chanting and yodeling like a shaman, variations on “John Henry” and a snippet of Elizabeth Cotten’s “Freight Train” slipped inside “Panama Red.”
Rowan acknowledged the technical gremlins when he slyly remarked: “If we’d have had tuners, the ‘60s never would have happened.”
Following a full-band rendition of “Midnight Moonlight,” Rowan returned all by his lonesome to begin the home stretch as he began the evening, serenading the audience alone before bringing his mates back for one last romp that ended his first appearance at Fur Peace since 2010.
Given the many standing ovations the band earned – and Kaukonen’s obvious delight – expect Rowan back sooner than later.