Snacking on Back City Woods w/Sean Clark & Amber Bennett @ Mellow Mushroom

One night, in 1998 I believe, I couldn’t sleep. Tossing and turning, I decided to just turn on the radio and use music to lull me to sleep. I couldn’t play my CDs because I loved them and besides, there is no way you can fall asleep with Tool blaring in your ear. Yep, just the radio, and obviously a station that played low key music. I turned it to Z-108, the light rock station. I knew the words to and sang every song that came on. By the time I finished singing Gloria Estefan’s Anything For You, the fifth song by the way, I knew I had to change the station. I ended up on a country station, now long gone, and after about three songs, I fell into peaceful sleep. However, it did something I didn’t expect.

It activated my enjoyment of country music.

I listened to country music and nothing else for six months straight. It was weird. I went from Tool and Pantera to Mindy McCready, Deanna Carter, and Brooks & Dunn. Of course O Brother, Where Art Thou got me into bluegrass, much like most of the country, and now I can’t pass up a banjo when I hear one. While I wouldn’t say that country music is my favourite, I find I enjoy it when it’s good. If not for those 6 months, I don’t think I would appreciate what bands like the Liabilities and Hank Vegas had to offer and what Back City Woods offers us now.

A little over 5 months ago, my husband and guitarist Daniel NeSmith began writing songs like crazy. They played music together a while ago and have also had separate bands playing anything from Tool inspired hard rock to punk infused indie rock. When they decided to go the alternative country route, I was a little bit skeptical. They took a chance,  getting themselves a performance at the Soap Box Derby slash Magnolia Street Block Party but it wasn’t until they played at the ‘Bird with MagTard that I was really impressed by Back City Woods.

My husband’s band is good. Each time they play, they get better.

This past Saturday, Back City Woods was at Mellow Mushroom with Sean Clark as the opening number. Sean Clark stood on the right side of the stage, letting his guitar do the talking. When I finally made it out to the Mushroom, Abby Owens was singing with him. One of the guys in attendance came up to me and said her voice made the hairs on the back of his arms stand on end. Sean Clark was no slouch either. He played the guitar like it was an extension of himself. It was high energy and soulful playing, a good compliment to Back City Woods – and vice versa.

Back City Woods is an alternative country rock band – that is, indie rock music with country and bluegrass elements. Their music is meant to be danced to. Mellow Mushroom kept the tables in the middle of the floor, so people sat closer to the stage. There wasn’t much room for dancing, which is a pity. It was good to see so many people show up, especially so many of whom had not seen the band since the block party.

There is something I like about watching shows at the Mellow Mushroom and it is this: You can hear the music really well, even if you are outside. That way, I got to see a huge shooting star (the biggest I’ve ever seen, and I saw them nightly when I was in Africa) while the band played Death is Calling Me. It’s a little bit symbolic.

Jess Darsey on banjo is always a treat. It was his second time playing with the trio and I always enjoy hearing him play. He has a light touch with the instrument and his voice on Death matches so well with NeSmith’s. Special guest Amber Bennett from The Vineyard sang along on Let It Ride, the Ryan Adams cover. Back City Woods slowed the tempo closer to it’s normal pace. I think that might be the last time they play that song, so it was pretty special hearing female vocals with it. I loved Promises and Lawdy Mercy and loved how they convinced us to be interactive in the song My Way in Life.

They do a great job of mixing faster paced songs with slower ones, giving you dancing rest if you need it. It is always amazing to hear the changes they make to songs, even familiar ones. I get to hear the practice songs and hear the words as Collins comes up with them, but there is nothing like seeing the final product on the stage in full technicolor sound. If you didn’t get to see them Saturday night, or if you’ve never gotten to hear them, you’re missing out. Well, that’s my opinion anyway. Hope to see you at the next show.

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