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Chris Thile

A perfect Autumn evening, all things golden on this day-into-night, the leaves raining down, all of us now wearing boots and scarves, our colors all loden and aubergine, and we traipse to the hall to hear what musical delicacy is put before us. I was busy at home, sewing bronzy lizards around the feathered brim of a witch hat, so I was thinking that this better be worth leaving this magic behind, unfinished, a spell half-cast. And oh, how it was! Chris Thile, of Nickel Creek, of Punch Brothers, of Mutual Admiration Society, so well-known for his collaborations with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall, Stuart Duncan, and a myriad of other musical greats, took the stage alone. He brought to us another kind of magic, one that carried us along through an unusually blurred border of genres, from the most spell-binding Baroque to the haunting sparseness of the Louvin Brothers to his own originals that were brought forth from a deep well of sentiment and both belief in faith and lack thereof.

For the entirety of his one long set, Thile kept us ensnared in a most tender way. Touring for his most recent release, Bach Sonatas & Partitas Vol. 1, on Nonesuch Records, Thile was audacious, to say the least, cocky, self-assured throughout. He took us places it would be difficult to traverse with a full band. Just a man and a mandolin (reportedly valued in excess of $200,000), dynamically diverse and interesting throughout, he can afford to be just what he is, having recently been awarded the Genius Award by the MacArthur Foundation (yes, you know them as John D. and Katherine T.), which includes a grant of $500,000.

No wonder Chris Thile was awarded the genius grant. I was curious how one man was going to do a solo show with just a mandolin.. after witnessing what we just did for the past two hours I will be devoting my new career to making pop-up books. Thanks Chris Thile and thanks LB Spy! We had an amazing night. – Nick Durm, The Boatmen.

He took the stage, gray suit, alone. He began with a Baroque piece, and you could hear a pin drop. The old building sighed and groaned with each shift of the audience, and the mandolin pulled its own incantations from the breathy annals of the place, as Thile morphed, head back, calling forth an Appalachian yodel from which the line “I’m reading my bible” came wailing. Then on to incredible mandolin playing, so much going on it was reminiscent of a harp playing us into a dream sequence in a movie. What a prodigy. What a virtuoso. How many semi-demi-hemi-quiver-quavers are too many? Earlier that day, when asked about how long it took him to learn the main movement from the Bach piece that he performed flawlessly, he had stated that it took about a week to memorize, but 9 or 10 years to get comfortable performing. Long term goals duly noted.

The Bach continued through the evening, interspersed with many fields of musical vision, with a multiplicity of interpretations, all beyond astute perfection. The Bach movements took me sweetly back to my high school years and my obsession with the Baroque, the father of it all being J.S. Bach, the rock star of his time. The strings carried me across the years to when I practiced late into the night in solitude, the piano now in my room in the far end of the house, where I would tackle one Bach Invention after another or listen again and again to the Magnificat. I recalled begging my parents to buy me a harpsichord. This, of course, is where they drew the line.) I was filled, during this concert, with the sentiment that all of those things that had been lost , all that was gone, all that had made a hole in my heart that was now at this moment being filled with these notes, these strings, this moment in time.

(Other moments to remember, outside of the Baroque arena, was the mightly line from the Louvin Brothers, “Broadminded is spelled S-I-N”, a nice rendition of Fiona Apple’s “Fast as You Can”, and a humorous reference to the solo performer’s legal requirement to do at least one Civil War song, which was fulfilled by the tune “Richmond is a Hard Road to Travel”, full of really, really creative improvisations and light-speed changes. But the moment that sent arrows through my heart, though, was when he performed early his own poignantly troubling, “Stay Away from Me”. It could have been a soliloquy regarding temptation, or a bit of a threnody for a (soon-to-be) lost love, but it undeniably struck a chord within me.

“You are the devil, Stay away from me…I am in trouble
But you’re not what I need…Even if I’m all alone Crying out for help
Keep yours to yourself Cause I’m trying to hold on
To her as long as she can stand it, you’ve Been prying off my fingers one by one
If I give in Give me bitter songs to play
And some sweet heart to win Friends I thought I lost
And times I’ve never been Just don’t ever make me fall in love again
Shoulda seen us fly out that church Devil stay away form me
Stay away from me Stay away.”

So it stayed with me, this music, through the walk back to the car, my feet kicking through the dry leaves, kicking up the smells of walking home from school, the sweet memories of carrying thermos and books, making a sound like the rustling of dark wings against the October sky.This music stayed with me through the drive up the wild mountain to home. These notes and words stayed with me through the night, and my heart was full.

Susanna Robinson-Kenga, LBSPY #44 (Oct 21-Nov 4, 2013)


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Publisher/Editor in Chief at HashtagWV | + posts

HASHTAGWV ART & ENTERTAINMENT Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, Christina Entenmann-Edwards has been a WV resident since September 2008. She was born and raised in Fairfield County, Connecticut, and is no stranger to hard work and the entrepreneurial spirit. In 2006, she graduated from Quinnipiac University (Hamden, Connecticut), Cum Laude, with a B.A. in History. In 2010, she graduated with an M.B.A. from Liberty University (Lynchburg, Virginia). In February 2012, Christina launched HashtagWV as the area’s first full-color, free arts and entertainment tabloid + online platform. Christina completed the Leadership West Virginia class of 2021, which is an innovative program that grows, engages, and mobilizes leaders to ignite a life passion to move West Virginia forward.