John Cowan Band: Neighborhood Theater, Charlotte, NC – 9/1/07

John Cowan has some pretty big shoes to fill: his own. After all, here is a guy who has been doing everything from country to bluegrass, blues to soul and gospel to rock in roll for over thirty years and doing it well. He has a voice like no other, he has been a driving force in helping to open country and bluegrass and fusing together all kids of music into one sound and bringing them to an ever-widening audience. Cowan’s performance September 1st at the Neighborhood Theatre in Charlotte, NC, did not disappoint.
Sharing the stage with Cowan that night was Jeff Autry on guitar, who could easily have kept up with Larry Keel, Bryan Sutton or Tony Rice in just about any situation. On banjo, he had Tony Wray, a man who couldn’t have limited his playing even if he wanted to, taking bluegrass into jazz and back as smoothly as one can imagine. Lastly, he had Shad Cobb up there, a doctor of his instrument, playing the fiddle. Every one of these musicians was great, but you simply don’t see musicians like Shad Cobb every day, or even every year. At one point Shad and Cowan did a duet that was only vocal and fiddle that was dedicated to Cowan’s grandfather who had been a farmer and had fought the elements like his grandfather’s father and grandfather before him.
The band moved seamlessly through genres throughout the course of the night. They played bluegrass standards, country ballads and New Grass Revival tunes. They did a cappella gospel pieces, jazz tunes and 70’s covers. They did straight up hoe-down’s and gritty blues numbers. One particular highlight of the night came introduced as an old British folk song, as they then proceeded to play “Going to California” by Led Zeppelin. The boys definitely did their own take on it, but Robert Plant was not missed in the slightest as Cowan, well into his fifties and currently battling bronchitis, nailed every high note in the song.

Here was a guy who paved the way for some many of today’s great bands like Leftover Salmon and String Cheese Incident Yet here he was on The Neighborhood Theater stage still refusing to follow rules or accept that music can be defined or limited by genres or labels.

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