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Review: Mixed results for “Mountain Stage”

Last week “Mountain Stage” had a sold-out show on their hands. This week, the recorded live radio program struggled to fill seats with the lower half the theater only around half capacity.

Weak-selling shows are always sort of perplexing because the shows are reliably good and even a so-so “Mountain Stage” is typically better than just about anything else going on the same weekend.

It was as if the fans of Wilco and Dashboard Confessional just knew that The Autumn Defense, a long-standing side project of two members of Wilco, and Twin Forks, a recently announced new direction for Dashboard Confessional front man, Chris Carrabba, wouldn’t be playing any songs by Wilco or Dashboard and stayed away in protest.

If so, well, they were right. Neither band touched anything related to their better-known ensembles and with mixed results.

Carrabba and Twin Forks turned in an intriguing set with lyrics that didn't seem far away from the emo, indie rock he’s known for with Dashboard Confessional. Instead, Twin folks played upbeat, folk/Americana that invited audience participation.

The Autumn Defense, meanwhile, seemed mired in the super soft power-pop sounds of the 70s. The highlight of their set was a fairly reverential cover of “Sentimental Lady,” a top 10 hit for songwriter Bob Welch in 1977 that lingered on the charts for weeks and on soft rock stations for generations.

With their set, it was pretty clear The Autumn Defense is very much into this particular style of pop music. They played it very well, but it was agony for me.

As far as the rest of the night, Driftwood, a New York state-based folk quartet, was something of a surprise. “Mountain Stage” host Larry Groce said something to the effect that they were a folk band with a rock soul. Groce was dead on.

Driftwood played with the wild joy of somebody like The Who, but without the need to smash instruments. They were just a lot of fun and seemed to be having a great time.

Songwriters Casey Neill and Robbie Hecht turned in credible sets that were overshadowed by the acts that followed them, which was maybe a little unfair in Hecht’s case.

Hecht was followed by Brittany Javins, the assistant to FestivALL’s artist director (Larry Groce), and Groce’s two daughters who danced “The West Virginia Mambo,” while the “Mountain Stage” band played guitarist Michael Lipton’s song of the same name.

It was delightful.

After the show, members of pretty much every band stuck around in the lobby of the Culture Center to shake hands, pose for pictures and to sign t-shirts and CDs. If nothing else, fans of Wilco and Dashboard Confessional who’d stayed home missed out on meeting their musical heroes.

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