CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mountain Stage returned to the Clay Center Sunday night with some old friends, a couple of songwriting legends and Ryan Kennedy on a keyboard?It was a new one on me but, apparently, that's something else the radio show's spare guitarist and bass player can do.A good crowd came out for the show and really got a two-for one special, with the first hour of the recorded-live radio program being a standard "Mountain Stage" show, with featured guests Ari Hest, Aoife O'Donovan and Don Dixon with his wife, singer Marti Jones.The second hour was entirely Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin, with a guest appearance by O'Donovan on a single song.The first hour of the show belonged to the opener. Hest shone brightest. His voice sounded gorgeous, his songs were delightful and I felt bad that I'd missed his previous appearances on the show.It's one of the truths of the show: Often, the artists who'd be considered at the bottom of the bill or are the supporting acts on the ticket are every bit as interesting and, sometimes, even more interesting than the better-known acts sharing the same stage.Aoife O'Donovan also was good, showing off some of her new material, which seemed a little different than the progressive bluegrass she's done with Crooked Still or the folk trio Sometymes Why.
I liked Don Dixon's shirt.Actually, there was nothing wrong with Dixon and Jones. I just didn't connect with his "Felon Girlfriend" song and would have liked to have heard more from Jones.Hour two, of course, was what most people in the room came to see: Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin.It was a funny thing. The two played a full hour of music that seemed to be aimed directly at the hardcore Colvin and/or Carpenter fans -- these would be the folks who have all the records and not just the ones with Grammy Awards attached to them in some way.For the most part, the pair stayed away from their better-known material, played newer works and covers of songwriters they admire, like Steve Earl and Lefty Frisell. Toward the end, Colvin brought out "Round of Blues" from "Fat City" and the pair tore through Carpenter's 1993 hit "The Hard Way," which was probably the highlight of the set, if only to watch Carpenter feeding Colvin the lyrics.It was one part of the show the folks listening at home would never catch.While I got the feeling a lot of people were waiting to hear "Sunny Came Home" or "Passionate Kisses" or "I Feel Lucky," they took what they could get and were glad to get it. That second hour seemed a little drowsy, but it was all good stuff and everybody knew it.Reach Bill Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5195.