in performance: ross hammond

ross hammond.

ross hammond.

What is the worst time of day or week to stage a performance? Hard to say, but judging by Ross Hammond’s brave and ultimately winning solo guitar concert earlier today at A Cup of Common Weath, rush hour on a Friday afternoon gets my vote.

The downtown setting offered a turnstile-like level of customer traffic for the Sacramento-by-way-of Lexington artist to contend with, much of which was probably unaware Hammond was even booked to play an Outside the Spotlight show there. The result was a coffeehouse setting for what was clearly a concert artist. In other words, Hammond was relegated to working as a largely background fixture in an atmosphere where multiple levels of conversation and commercial distraction were rattling around him.

He nicely preserved though, offering an hour long set of folk-blues instrumentals on resonator guitar. Unlike his past visits, which relied on a mix of American and European inspirations, the slide-savvy sounds produced on the steel framed resonator guitar (which, Hammond admitted, was “not as old as it looks”) favored far more of an American primitive feel. An update of “John Henry,” while rich in wiry density, retained a sturdy melodic flow – a sort of steam engine-like accent in terms of pace and atmosphere. The original “Sick Wife Blues,” though, was more cross generational in sound and style, blending rustic slide colors within a contemporary compositional frame

Best of all was an instrumental take on the Civil Rights Era protest song “I Ain’t Afraid of Your Jail” (popularized most prominently in the early 1960s by Pete Seeger) that defused its anthemic fabric for a sparser, roots-conscious feel that opened the tune out into a ghostly meditative soundscape. A variation on the Appalachian blues “Sinner Man” was also refreshingly non time-specific with Hammond’s slide work slowly peeling away the years until a rootsy, dark core was revealed.

The chatty, noisy ambience surrounding the music eventually dissipated, leaving a handful of quiet, involved patrons. Still, OTS shows, by their very improvisational nature, demand environments for active listening. A Cup of Common Wealth works wonderfully as a coffeehouse. But for this music at this time, it simply wasn’t the right fit.


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