Dawn Landes had to realize just how closely last night’s opening night audience at the inaugural Well Crafted Festival was following her performance. When she introduced a tune (the pensive Bodyguard) by saying, “This is a little song about a robbery,” a crowd patron, without skipping a beat, replied, “Were you involved?”
Granted, the folk/Americana accent of her songs and the often wistfully confessional nature of her lyrics are very audience-friendly attributes. Adding to that last night, though, was the performance setting. The Louisville-born, Brooklyn-based songstress was the last of four acts to perform in Meadow View Barn at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Mercer County.
In other words, the show was set in the most inviting and remote part of an already inviting and remote festival site. An atypically cool midsummer evening didn’t hurt either, but the barn setting provided an informal, intimate atmosphere for Landes’ music – especially tunes from her fine 2014 album, Bluebird.
Backed by a trio of Lexington pros dubbed the Kentucky Gentlemen – guitarist/pedal steel player Tom Hnatow, bassist Blake Cox and drummer Robby Cosenza – Landes delivered a 50 minute set that worked its way from songs of studious reflection, revelation and despondency to a finale of rockish celebration highlighted by a jacked up cover of Tom Petty’s Southern Accents.
The Bluebird tunes fell into the former class. Tryin’ to Make a Fire Burn Again, the best of the new selections, used Hnatow’s pedal steel accents as subtle embellishment to the uneasy grace of Landes’ singing, which recalled the subtle but dark emotive cast of Natalie Merchant’s early solo records.
Heel Toe turned such a sound on its side by setting the music to a jagged, neo-waltz melody. Pull such intensity back into a more traditional country context and you had the repressed emotive drive of Oh Brother which escaped in beguiling, mantra like choruses. And for pure country fun, there was a sisterly cover of Dolly Parton’s Longer Than Always with Lexington’s own Coralee, whose preceding set with her longstanding Townies band worked a emotively similar but stylistically different country soul vibe that sounded equally sweet at this barn party.