Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A float down Chris Hillman's river of time

With all the virtuoso pickers burning up the stages at SuperGrass, it was a pleasure to enter the mellow dream world of Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen for their marvelous set at SuperGrass.

"All these hot bands are great," Hillman said near the beginning of his evening set (I missed the afternoon performance), "but we are older and slower and we are going to take our time." In fact, Hillman's mandolin style is as accomplished as any at the festival, full of tremolo and weavings of harmonic lines in his leads. The rich blend of his vocals with Pedersen's high harmonies added to the feeling of a lazy float down a river of time.

That river is what HIllman's performance is all about, a flow of acoustic memories from all the stages of his musical life (The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas, The Desert Rose Band, and his various collaborations with Pedersen).

But it is much more than a greatest hits show. I've seen him three or four times in recent years and each time the show is fresh because it includes themes that are relevant to the setting. For SuperGrass, the relevance included a tribute to hometown hero Buck Owens, with whom Hillman worked (who knew?) and several solid bluegrass numbers including one from Bill Monroe and one by Country Gentleman Pete Kuykendall.

He was also able to feature his two bandmates, Pedersen and bassist Bill Bryson, on three of the songs in the 13-song set. Pedersen contributed his classic "Wait a Minute," a melancholy acknowledgment of the downside of a life on the road.

And then there were the classics--Turn, Turn, Turn, Hickory Wind, Eight Miles High, It Doesn't Matter, Love Reunited--a repertoire that encapsulates not just Hillman's career, but in many ways the story of a generation.

Most of it wasn't bluegrass, but the bluegrass crowd soaked it up with appreciation for the unique contributions and continued relevance of a musical survivor.

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