“Mountain Stage’s” 819th show was a night of surprises big and small.
The first surprise was a little one. Folk rock group, The Head and The Heart, fresh off their appearance this weekend at the Nelsonville Music Festival in Nelsonville, Ohio, came to Charleston to play a set.
Their appearance was only barely a secret. Word that they were coming had been circulating and was likely part of the reason the show sold out as quickly as it did.
The reward to the faithful was that the Seattle-born group sounded great and seemed to perform just fine with half the band left behind.
The second surprise was more of a reward to older music fans. College radio band turned top 40 hit-makers, Toad the Wet Sprocket, has aged well.
Kind of, sort of back from an extended hiatus that started toward the end of the 1990s (front man Glen Phillips joked that they’d all wound up working at the same Taco Bell and learned to work together again), the band felt like an old, favorite T-shirt you’d practically worn out once upon a time and maybe buried in the back of a drawer.
They sounded good and the music seemed to still fit without being out of style.
Patty Griffin’s surprise was her most recently released record, “Silver Bell,” which she talked about some from the stage.
Recorded in 2000, the album was stuck in record company limbo for almost 14 years before finally being made available last October. It’s probably as good as anything she’s ever put out and why the record company kept it locked up so long is of those headshaking stories that professional musicians sometimes tell that don’t make any sense.
Griffin played a few songs from that, along with “American Kid,” a tribute album to her late father she released in May of 2013.
She also took the time to acknowledge her sideman, Charleston native John Deaderick. The keyboard and accordion player has been with Griffin for about 18 years.
But the biggest surprise of the evening was Parker Millsap, who opened the show.
The young man with the clean-cut, Midwestern looks, good haircut and easygoing manner seemed a little out of place when he took the stage. Looking like a kid on break from folding shirts at Abercrombie and Fitch or American Eagle at your local mall, when he sang, he conjured up some weathered country blues man who had some stories to tell.
Millsap was a revelation and he blew the place away. He had people laughing, shouting and even, unexpectedly, choking back tears with his song, “Heaven Sent,” a moving song about a letter written from a gay son to his preacher father.
A newcomer, the Oklahoma singer/songwriter was a tough act to have to follow all night long – kind of a surprise in itself, but not really. Sometimes on “Mountain Stage,” the best act on the show is not the one you came to see, the one whose name you recognize and whose records you bought, but it’s the one you’ve never heard of and might never have heard of, if you hadn’t bought a ticket.
Reach Bill Lynch at email@example.com or 304-348-5195.