The Rockwood Music Hall is a curious venue, with the small stage jutting out from the very corner of the room, creating a tight 45 degree-ish angle performance space, accentuated by the hardwood floorboards vanishing back into the corner. The room was packed, and with only an acoustic guitar sitting on the dimly-lit stage, greeting the crowd as the room filled in. There was an excitable buzz in the air awaiting the show to begin.
As Chris Thile and Michael Daves bounced onto the stage, each carrying their own instruments, a mandolin for Thile and an acoustic guitar for Daves, the two were greeted by a warm boisterous applause from the tightly filled room of spectators.
A friendly and jovial welcome of "Howdy" was declared by the two men, followed up with a laughingly-proclaimed prediction that a snow-themed bluegrass-filled set would be appropriate for the night's performance. Wasting no time, Mr. Thile and Mr. Daves launched into a bouncing rendition of the traditional favorite "Rain and Snow".
Mr. Daves led the opener with his distinctive high tenor-styled vocals, as he and Mr. Thile stood on either side of the sole microphone between them. Next up was the quickly paced "Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms", which had Mr. Thile and Mr. Daves alternating vocal duties throughout the tune, as well as relentlessly matching their solos within inches of each other.
Bill Monroe's "Footprints In The Snow" showcased the balladry of these virtuosic masters, as "Loneliness and Desperation" picked the pace back up, and galloped its way up to, what was dubbed by the two, the first "Fiddle Request Time" portion of the evening.
"Back Up And Push" (aka "Rubber Dolly") was declared the winner as the first granted request, and was quickly followed by The Louvin Brothers' classic "You're Running Wild", which again showcased the duo's complimentary playing techniques and uniquely matched, alternating vocal stylings.
"Big Sandy River" was the second fiddle tune delivered, followed by "Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes" and a cover of Hank Williams' "Weary Blues From Waitin" to round out the first set of the evening.
Following a brief break, Mr. Thile and Mr. Daves returned with renditions of "Cry Cry Darlin", "First Whippoorwill", and "Little Girl of Mine In Tennessee". The final fiddle tune request of the night was granted with "Patty On The Turnpike", followed by the gospel classic "Three Men On A Mountain". The infectiously catchy "Molly And Tenbrooks", which seemed to run on the momentous energy of the hoots, hollers, and foot-stomps from the crowd, rounded out the second set.
The evening closed with Mr. Thile announcing that the two men would be heading down to Nashville after the New Year's weekend for some scheduled recording time, which got the room roaring, only to be temporarily subdued by the final tune of the evening, "Nine Pound Hammer".
Having been much more familiar with Mr. Thile's work, and as an admitted newcomer to Mr. Daves, I really admired how the two equally and respectively shared their performance duties during the tunes. Their casual and friendly delivery, balanced with their undeniably accomplished musicianship, presented the two friends as having a blast playing an evening of traditional favorites. It was clear the two were thrilled to be sharing their own enthusiasm and love for this music with the overly-joyed and warmly-receptive crowd.
Nothing about the evening's performance was showy, but directly the opposite- an intimate, light, and virtuosic display of two brilliant musicians sharing their talents with the audience, without any pretense of the typical performer/ audience facade. Mr. Thile and Mr. Daves were gracious, generous, and hospitable hosts, giving all attendees something to look forward to in the new year- a recording and hopefully, more brilliant performances to come.