Review: Huntington show was 'Mountain Stage' at its best

On Sunday night, "Mountain Stage" closed out the Marshall Artist Series 75th year celebration with a fun show at the Keith Albee Theater. It was a fitting conclusion to a fine season. The evening opened with Mississippi singer/songwriter Paul Thorn, a "Mountain Stage" favorite. Thorn delighted audience members (and probably appalled a few) with a batch of funny and often poignant songs about low-rent life lived largely on the skids. This time around, however, a good portion of the songs were handpicked covers by artists like Buddy Miller; they are on Thorn's cover album, "What the Hell is Goin' On?" due out May 8.  As usual, Thorn joked with the crowd and ambled toward the boundaries of what could be broadcast on a radio show. It ought to be interesting to see what "Mountain Stage" keeps when the show airs in September.Next, Delta Rae from Durham, N.C. gave a slick alt-pop performance that was hit-and-miss. The six-piece outfit was an attractive bunch, easy on the eyes, and parts of its set were very exciting, like the percussion piece that had most of the band hammering away on microphone stands while the drummer worked with a trashcan and chain.However, on other songs, the audio seemed muddled. It also wasn't always apparent who among the four vocalists was singing lead, and that was distracting.Still, the bright spots of the group's performance were very bright, and Delta Rae looks like an act with major league potential: definitely a band to watch. 
Hometown boy Michael Cerveris took the stage, not as a Broadway star, but as a gracious and grateful guest of "Mountain Stage." The Broadway star gave ample credit for his beginnings in theater and music to Huntington and a local teacher who encouraged him.For his part in the show, Cerveris and his band, Loose Cattle, did a few of their own songs, a warm cover of Utah Phillips "Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia" and a Johnny Cash-flavored take on "Pinball Wizard," a song Cerveris should know well after his turn as Tommy in The Who's Broadway rock opera of the same name.It was great to see Cerveris, a real success story with roots in West Virginia, on stage at the Keith Albee.Finally, Arlo Guthrie, with a son and grandson in tow, performed an extended set that was a mix of music, memories, stories and gentle political activism. Guthrie rolled out a few of his familiar tunes, like "City of New Orleans," plus a few songs by his father, Woody Guthrie. He also encouraged a sing-along for the elder Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land."The highlight, however, was "St. James Infirmary Blues," a melancholy old folk tune about death and despair that raised chill bumps. Like most popular folk songs, it's been done countless times by scores of singers, but Guthrie's weathered, weary delivery really helped color the story.Sunday night was another fine "Mountain Stage" show, a nice mix of old and new music, known and unknown performers, with a little bit of artistic risk thrown in for good measure. It seldom gets better than that.Reach Bill Lynch at or 304-348-5195.
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