MistyRiver inspires country and western fans

Published on Thu, May 12, 2005 by Richard Clark

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Misty River inspires country and western fans

By Richard Clark

In the western world, musical periods used to have names. Seventeenth century music was called baroque, 18th century music was called classic, 19th century music was called romantic, but when the 20th century ended, nobody knew what to call music. One could say it started with impressionism and ended with New Age. But then there was the twelve-tone stuff, jazz, and rock. And Saturday at our performing arts center, there was country and western, and a bit of bluegrass.

With a toe-tapping audience calling for more as the Misty River foursome finished their concert, Carol Harley, guitarist and banjoist, said, “I’m glad you kept clapping, ‘cause I want us to do another song.” So Carol and her daughter, bassist Laura Quigley, joined accordionist-guitarist Dana Abel, and fiddler-guitarist Chris Kokesh, for an encore. They’re all vocalists, so “America the Beautiful” was the last piece, sung without accompaniment. A pall of reverence spread over the audience, and everyone quietly departed.

Twenty-one songs were sung, and I didn’t know a single composer. How does one familiar with Bach, Beethoven and Brahms comment on songs by Welch, Wilborn and Wolf? And how do I go about objectively assessing an art subjective as music? It isn’t easy, but I’ll try, and do excuse me if I reminisce a little.

Dad would have loved “These are my Mountains,” the opening piece. I was taken back to the early ’40s when he would fire up the old Model B and drive mom and me to an empty schoolhouse on Haynie Road where old-fashioned community dances were held. The music was much the same; it was usually heard in simple duple time, and quite often it was rather slow and sad. It reflected the life of poor farmers in those days.
With the exception of the bluegrass waltz, “Ashokan Farewell,” every selection was written with a “one-and-two-and” beat that stimulated the toe tapping. Although it, too, had a sound of sadness, it was the only piece I recognized.

Even “Gan Lan Shu,” a piece Misty River performed at the Chinese National Music Festival last year, was a sad song that the four practiced at airports. A Toyota sales person helped them pronounce the Chinese lyrics which, in English, opened with “Don’t ask me where I came from, my homeland is far away.”

“Homegrown Tomatoes” was among the few humorous pieces performed. Laura’s double bass solo drew applause.

“Do you still have the ring I gave you?” sang Laura to the slow strains of “Black Hawk” by Daniel Lanois. It was another Misty River song that may have left a few listeners misty eyed.

It brought to mind an old joke: What happens when you play country music backwards? You get your dog, your pickup truck and your lover back. I wonder why country music is so often tearful? Still, I don’t worry ‘cause it makes no difference now.

Although most of the pieces had that note of sadness in them, these musicians were nevertheless well prepared. As a singing quartet, the four harmonized beautifully, and the vocal range was wide. Certainly, they were fine instrumentalists, too.

Their backgrounds fascinated me. Laura studied theater and music at Portland State University, her mother held a master’s degree in education, Dana holds a master’s degree in environmental engineering, and Chris holds a bachelor of science degree in biology. Their backgrounds didn’t seem to fit their musical professions. But then, why should they? One doesn’t need always to study at Juilliard or Curtis to become a reputable musician, you know.

The bottom line is what counts: The audience loved Misty River. Me? I went home, cooked up some vegetables, put on a CD and listened to the late Sonya Hanke accompany the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Ottorino Respighi’s Concerto in Modo Misolidio for Piano and Orchestra.

The evening included a visual art display in the lobby with a collage by Pat Palmer, the Birch Bay Village Art Group exhibit, and an antique watercolor. Moderator Sandy Wolf, who announced her retirement as president of the Pacific Arts Association, recognized Don Lotze’s contribution to the organization prior to his China mission. Bob Boule, owner of Smugglers’ Inn, becomes the new president.