The Wood Brothers Offer A Dexterous Soundtrack To An Evening On Lake Champlain (SHOW REVIEW)

Despite all their best efforts, The Wood Brothers could not capture and hold the attention of the audience that gathered before them at Burlington’s Waterfront Park on July 25th- this first night of the annual Lake Champlain Maritime Festival. Yet the trio’s valiant and various attempts to establish more than just tenuous connection(s) with their listeners (sic) nevertheless resulted in one of the more diverse sets this band has played since, as Oliver Wood duly noted, he began to visit the Green Mountain state with his brother Chris ten to twelve years ago.

The Wood Brothers can usually charm any audience with such ingratiating repartee, in close combination with their understated musicianship. And they have performed that feat regularly, to an increasingly larger following, since their appearances in this locale began. But what occurred this Thursday night was in decided contrast to that history and, more specifically, how Oliver and Chris, along with multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix, effectively stole the show when they last came to Vermont on the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s 2017 Wheels of Soul tour. It is worth noting, however, that the threesome was opening for Lake Street Dive this July 25th, as they had on a select handful of other appearances this summer and, as a result, they were not blessed with an audience naturally disposed to their nuanced mix of folk, rock, blues and gospel, typified by the sly opener “Sparklin’ Wine,” and its ever-so-wry counterpart “Glad.” 

Quite the contrary, in fact, because, even as the elder Wood sibling brandished an electric guitar “Atlas” near the outset of the show—eschewing til the homestretch of “Happiness Jones” the acoustic he usually wields early on–they were plying their trade in front of  a constant stream of attendees fairly evenly divided between those arriving specifically for the headliners and those carefree souls simply out to enjoy the balmy weather and the amenities offered down the grassy concourse away from the stage. 

So, unlike that aforementioned show two years ago, during which the Wood Brothers established themselves early on (even as they were sandwiched between Hot Tuna and TTB), their overtures to the crowd, in every form they took, too often fell on deaf ears: affable verbal overtures usually elicited no response greater than the savvy juxtaposition of “Blue ‘N’ Green” or  “Pray Enough.” That’s not to say the music wasn’t connecting with the audience at all: there was certainly a smattering of Wood Brothers fans embedded in the dense aggregation on the shore of Lake Champlain and some other attendees deigned to boogie, albeit briefly and somewhat sheepishly. But the dancing was more of an unconscious response to music that was, for all those apart from the band’s loyalists, simply the soundtrack to a picture-perfect evening on the water. 

Granted, the al fresco sound, treble-heavy as it was, didn’t exactly invite close listening to its borderline shrill, near-excessive volume. But the mix nevertheless revealed those full-throated vocal timbres of the Wood Brothers on, for instance, “Shoo Fly Pie”  one of the few intervals where the performers seemed to enrapture those before them (perhaps through the guitarist’s inquiry about dessert preferences). “Luckiest Man”/”Express Yourself” also got a respectable, if not exactly hearty singalong, but tellingly, it was nowhere so rousing as when Rachel Price and Bridget Kearney from the headliners came on stage to join the Woods in a circle around a center stage mike adding their dulcet tones to ”Sing About It.” 

By the time Chris Wood was playing his Hofner electric bass with such relish for “Snake Eyes”–its gambling metaphor apt for the chances the group–he and his bandmates sounded, as they invariably do, like a much larger ensemble than just three; Rix’ keyboard playing, often in tandem with the punchy drumming so reminiscent of the late great Levon Helm, certainly contributed to that effect. But it was also the younger sibling’s harmonica playing, at times simultaneous to the nimble and resonant thump of his stand-up bass work, but without sacrificing its subtleties. And then there was the elder Wood’s deft touch with slide guitar. 

In the end, The Wood Brothers reached out from the stage via every means at their disposal during their allotted seventy-five minutes, and while it wasn’t all for naught. The band, quite likely left at least a subliminal impression on a select few that will last beyond the fade of the evening’s glorious sunset and this sweetest of seasons. Perhaps even a few of those people, along with the group’s loyalists, will be prompted to attend the next show by these redoubtable musicians, when they return to Vermont, as they graciously promised they would, upon leaving the stage.

Photos by Ross Mickel


Sparklin’ Wine



This Is It

Pray Enough

Blue ‘N’ Green

Mary Anna

Who The Devil

Happiness Jones

Sing About It

Keep Me Around

Shoo Fly Pie

Luckiest Man

Snake Eyes

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