579 is not a number that I’m particularly happy about or proud to be associated with – 579 represents the number of days that have passed since my last live concert experience (thanks COVID, not!). It’s mind-boggling to think that for almost 84 weeks I have not found an opportunity to sit or stand up close to a stage and simply enjoy an evening of excellent music (yes, there were virtual events, but it really is not the same). And in that time, the world has crumbled around us, leaving us retreating into the safety of our homes, waiting patiently for good news, for the arrival of vaccines, and with thoughts of returning to some sense of normal life. We are not quite there just yet, but life sure felt a little better last Thursday, on day 579, when I found myself in Frederick, MD to see a real, in-person music performance
Words alone cannot express the feelings I had when turning the corner onto W Patrick St and seeing the band’s name illuminated on the marquee sign above the entrance to this wonderful historic theater. Nor can words express the euphoria of purchasing a ticket to enter, to walk down towards the stage and find my favorite spot, front and center, and to marvel at the instruments and monitors set up and ready to go. The stage lights, set to a soft blue hue, reflecting against the swirling emissions of the smoke machine, as casual conversations behind me bounced around the room. And of course, seeing the lights dim, and the silhouettes of two artists emerging from the smoke towards the front of the stage – at that very moment, the 579-day streak was banished, FINALLY!
Originally from Charlottesville, VA, but now residing in Baltimore, MD, folk-Americana duo The Honey Dewdrops made their Weinberg Center for the Arts debut as part of “The Tivoli Discovery Series,” bringing their tight vocal harmonies and impeccable musicianship to an appreciative, live-music-starved crowd on an autumn evening. This husband/wife duo of Kagey Parrish (guitars/mandolin/vocals) and Laura Wortman (guitar/banjo/vocals) are considered pretty “local” to us, but for some reason, we always seemed to be out of town when they played in our part of PA, leaving us to miss out. On this given night, I was not willing to let the opportunity to see them perform live pass me by, and at one of my favorite venues too.
Launching immediately into a beautiful rendition of “Same Old,” the duo would naturally spend time sharing music from their most recent 2019 “Anyone Can See” and 2015 “Tangled Country” albums (both of which were available to purchase at the show – and came home with me). A pair of tracks from their earlier 2012 “Silver Lining” album were performed too, much to the delight of the crowd. On this given evening, however, The Honey Dewdrops would share something much more than anticipated: “We are going to play just kind of a short set list, just the two of us,” offered Laura. “And then, for the first time – we’ve never done this – we are going to have a full band for the second set and we’re gonna play some brand-new songs for you.” The response from the room was, of course, overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
The first set saw the duo perform a 45-minute segment in their traditional acoustic format, sharing many popular tunes from their back-catalog, and accompanied by their well-traveled clawhammer banjo, mandolin, and acoustic guitars. Recent cuts such as “Rainy Windows” and “Going Rate” were joined by “Hold Love” and the instrumental dedication to the VA community of “Catawba.” Tunings were naturally required in-between songs, presenting the opportunity for both Laura and Kagey to converse with the room, and Kagey was clearly very excited about what was coming up. “It’s a pleasure to play this room, I feel like my mind is also on the next set where I get to do the childhood thing I’ve longed to do so much and play the electric guitar,” he explained. A burst of applause signaled approval for the prospect of hearing The Honey Dewdrops add electrification to their repertoire. “Playing electric guitar may be the closest thing to the fountain of youth I’ll ever find.”
Following their performance of “Catawba,” the conversation would return to the upcoming inclusion of the electric guitar, with Kagey sharing tales of learning his first strums/chords on a Stratocaster as a kid, and his aspirations to play along to Hendrix tunes. “We have focused on the duo for a long time and it’s fun to try some new stuff and expand things,” he offered. “I’m waiting for your album of just electric guitar songs, like songs about electric guitars,” Laura joked. “Songs about electric guitars, songs played on electric guitars, by electric guitar,” Kagey retorted, eliciting laughter from the floor. And following a rousing acoustic version of the Hank Williams tune, “Ramblin’ Man,” only a short 15-minute intermission would separate us all from the exciting prospect of the upcoming full-band experience.
Returning to the stage (Kagey with a Telecaster in hand, in lieu of mandolin), the duo would take time during their 60-minute second set to introduce their bandmates: Caleb Stine (keyboards), Alex Lacquement (upright bass) and producer Nick Sjostrom (drums). The quintet opened the set with a rousing rendition of “More Than You Should Say,” before sharing many new compositions set to appear on their forthcoming album (no date given, but mentioned ‘early spring’). It is always a delight to hear an artist road-test new tunes before they are formally shared with the world, and based upon this sampling, there are many hints of yet more evolution to their signature sound.
Having fulfilled his urge to give the Fender some attention, Kagey momentarily switched guitars to join Laura (on banjo) and share a few new lower-key acoustic pieces. One of these new compositions, titled “Weeping,” was preceded by some background information from Kagey. “I was at the kitchen sink one day, back in August 2019, and not very often but sometimes I’ll get a song idea that will just sort of pop up with some very definite lyrics and the way the melody goes,” he recalled. “So, I had to stop doing the dishes, grab the phone and sing some lyrics into it. I thought maybe it’s like a nice old traditional ballad.” Having handled the lead vocals on “Weeping,” Laura passed the imaginary baton back to Kagey for another new tune titled “Moon Pies.” “That was one that Kagey wrote in a nostalgic way of his days watching Hee Haw, and watching Roy Clark on the guitar at his grandparents house,” Laura offered at the close of the song. “And eating moon pies.”
Kagey would also take the lead on “Garden,” another composition that was partly inspired by a visit to Longwood Gardens near Philadelphia, before yielding back to Laura once more, for a very rousing, well-received ‘full-band’ version of their popular hit, “Loneliest Songs.” Not quite done yet, the quintet wrapped up with two more unreleased tracks – the finale titled “Holy Hymn,” before thanking the crowd and congregating center-stage to take their bows and bid us all a goodnight. And after hearing 18 songs performed across 2 sets, over 1 hour and 45 minutes of stage time, the evening came to a close. Thank you, Laura and Kagey. Thank you, Caleb, Alex, and Nick. And thank you, the staff and volunteers at the venue for your always-perfect hospitality – I left the Weinberg Theater for the Arts with renewed optimism and hope for a return to normal life – such is the healing power of a great live music experience. The Honey Dewdrops delivered – and I’m forever grateful.
- Same Old
- Hold Love
- Rainy Windows
- For One More
- Going Rate
- Silver Lining
- Ramblin’ Man (Hank Williams cover)
- More Than You Should Say
- Hand Of Death – (Unreleased Track)
- Heart Knows (sic) – (Unreleased Track)
- Weeping – (Unreleased Track)
- Moon Pies – (Unreleased Track)
- Pray To Love (sic) – (Unreleased Track)
- Garden – (Unreleased Track)
- Loneliest Songs
- Tuned Into (sic) – (Unreleased Track)
- Holy Hymn – (Unreleased Track)