Review – The Winter’s Bone Tour at the Waldorf, Vancouver, June 3 2011
– review by Raoul Fernandes/photos by Sita Kumar
It was a single woman’s singing voice accompanied only by crickets that made me give full trust to the movie I had just sat down to watch in the cool dark of a movie theatre last summer.
Winter’s Bone, a “country noir,” portrayed a Missouri Ozark community darkened by meth and secrecy. At the centre was Ree Dolly, a strong young woman (played masterfully by Jennifer Lawrence) in search of her missing father.
It made sense that a movie with sorrow, strength, and hope at its core would start off with a voice that embodied all of that. That voice belonged to Marideth Sisco, a journalist and musician, who had been asked to head the soundtrack and feature in what she thought then was “a little indie film about the Ozarks.”
Much like in the Coen Brothers‘ O Brother Where Art Thou?, music is integral to Winter’s Bone, and woven in beautifully. And as a part of American culture prone to mockery and misunderstanding, the Ozark communities and music are given a kind of dignity and grace by the film and the soundtrack. The tour then, is a natural progression; giving the talented and unheard-of musicians the chance to bring their rich musical tradition to a wider audience.
Officially dubbing themselves “Blackberry Winter” and unofficially dubbing the tour “The Amazing Geriatric Hillbilly Tour”, Sisco and her musician friends played their only Canadian date at the Waldorf Hotel Friday evening. The mostly mature audience was warm and welcoming, though my partner and I were puzzled at the lack of faces from the simmering bluegrass/old-timey community here in Vancouver.
Sisco started out the evening solo, setting the tone with the same “Missouri Waltz” that I had heard back in the theatre, recorded crickets and all. The band then joined in for a rousing “High in the Mountain”, another standout from the soundtrack. Despite the incongruity of the Waldorf’s bamboo aesthetic, it was clear that the show was going to be as intimate as they come, with plenty of friendly banter and storytelling in between the musicians’ folky, bluegrassy covers and originals.
Sisco also took a chance to speak thoughtfully about the complex role drugs have played in the Ozarks, and how what’s called moonshine, marijuana, and meth to some is to others “economic development.” Not sure how aware the band was on how relevant an issue it is to the troubled East Van neighbourhood in which they were playing, but it probably was not lost on the audience. Able to bring some humour to the situation, Sisco joked later that their merch table was selling magnets made of authentic Missouri crack, before scolding herself on taking it too far.
On a positive side, the Ozarks’ sense of “gumption, get-up and go,” and making the best of what you have, was noted too, in a song with the lyrics “you don’t need to strive for riches / you can do it up with stitches”. June Carter, an obvious influence, was paid a loving tribute, and bass player Tedi May put a sweet melody to a poem by poet Mary Elizabeth Mahnkey.
Every band member’s talents were highlighted: Bo Brown switched seamlessly between mandolin, dobro, and guitar, Van Colbert played his banjo in a claw-hammer style, lending a more old-timey sound, and Linda Stoffel stroked a washboard and sang a lovely harmony with Sisco on most of the songs. Guitarist Dennis Crider, as Sisco affirmed, “kept everyone together.”
After a break where the musicians happily mingled with the audience, the second set featured a cover of Tom Waits‘ “House Where Nobody Lives”, a tune from the group’s unreleased new album In These Ozark Hills, and a haunting number that let Sisco’s plaintive and understated voice fulfil her earlier promise of breaking hearts before their time was up. If she did indeed succeed, the crowd nevertheless cheered for more of it, through their sobs. Sorrow rarely tastes so sweet.
More Winter’s Bone Tour photos: