Drew Emmitt Band | 11.19 | Chicago

Words & Video by: Herschel Concepcion | Images by: Norman Sands

Drew Emmitt Band :: 11.19.08 :: The Morse Theater :: Chicago, IL

Drew Emmitt Band :: 11.19 :: Chicago
The Drew Emmitt Band is a force to be reckoned with. With his unique brand of homegrown mountain music, mandolin maestro Drew Emmitt, with a focus on instrumental versatility, has surrounded himself with some of the best pickers in the business. Tyler Grant (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vocals) recently won first place at the 2008 National Flatpicking Championship in Winfield, Kansas, in addition to placing in the top five for mandolin. Eric Thorin (bass) and Steven Sandifer (drums) are also veterans of the bluegrass circuit, having performed and recorded with artists such as the Tony Furtado Band and Bela Fleck. Recently added to the lineup, Andy Thorn (banjo), who also plays with Emmitt in the Emmitt-Nershi Band, has been plucking away since the age of 13.

Then there's Emmitt himself, who found his chops as a singer, songwriter, and serious instrumentalist while on the road for 16 years with the legendary Leftover Salmon, who are, in my opinion, quite possibly the greatest jamgrass band ever. In addition to his mastery of acoustic mandolin, Emmitt has perfected a screaming style of slide playing on electric mandolin that is reminiscent of late Allman Brothers guitarist and slide master Duane Allman (who Emmitt lists as one of his influences). Drew also displays a great proficiency on electric guitar, fiddle and mandola. This is a man who was clearly born to play music.

Wrapping up a vigorous fall tour in support of his new album Long Road (see JamBase's review here), Emmitt made one of his final stops in the Windy City, where he played for an intimate crowd at the 299-seat Morse Theater. Located in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood, the Morse recently underwent an extensive renovation where a special effort was made to make the building a more environmentally friendly structure. Originally built in 1912, the Morse has come a long way since its days as a Nickelodeon theater (those really old movie theaters where the film was accompanied by live piano and organ music). These days, the live music at the Morse is of a different nature. Sorry, old-timers, no more popcorn and ragtime piano for you – now it's mountain grass and whiskey.

Drew Emmitt :: 11.19 :: Chicago
After the frenetic, funky jazz of opening band BMR4, Drew Emmitt and company took the stage, donning their instruments amidst a chorus of hoots, hollers and raucous applause. "How y'all doin' tonight?" Emmitt asked the crowd, before delivering the good news, "We will be your entertainment this evening for cocktail hour." There was more wild applause as the band launched into the classic bluegrass tune "Wild Bill Jones."

As the night progressed, audience members were treated to a wide variety of material that included selections from Long Road as well as a number of choice covers ranging from traditional bluegrass and blues to classic Leftover Salmon. The band also took the opportunity to vary their instrumental work. About halfway into a rendition of the Marshall Tucker Band's "Take the Highway," Emmitt swapped out his mandolin for a nearby electric guitar as Tyler Grant wailed away on slide. For the next song, "The Other Side," Emmitt swapped out once again for electric mandolin. After Thorn plucked out a driving, dancing solo on the banjo it was Drew's turn to work the slide. With all of that switching of instruments, it was almost like watching two bands.

The evening continued with "Beat of the World," a reggae-influenced number about traveling and life on the road that appropriately expresses the highway theme of Long Road. After a bluegrass romp through Dylan's "Tangled Up In Blue," a rollicking good time was had by all present as the band hit such tunes as "Midnight Blues," "Down In the Hollow" and "Bend In the River," all staples in the Salmon repertoire. One of the highlights of the second set was a bluesy rendition of the bluegrass song "Why You Been Gone So Long?" followed by an unexpected "Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad" sandwiched in the middle of a slowed down, rockin' electric version of "Nine Pound Hammer."

And so it went. With a voice like the howling mountain air, pure and true, Emmitt belted out one after another, accompanied by his sharp and precise mandolin work. His solos soared through the room with a fierce, floating lyricism few can achieve on the instrument. It was a picker's dream in the Morse Theater that night, and for the select few who were gathered there to hear it, they would have a little extra bit of warmth to carry with them into the chilly Chicago night.

11.19.08 :: The Morse Theater :: Chicago, IL
Set I: Wild Bill Jones, Gold Hill Line, Into the Distance, This House, Take the Highway, The Other Side, Beat of the World, Tangled Up In Blue, Midnight Blues, Get 'er Rollin', Down in the Hollow
Set II: Sailin' Shoes, Long Road, Out In the Woods, Meet Me In the Morning, Bend In the River, Gypsy In My Soul, The Highway Song, Why You Been Gone So Long?, Nine Pound Hammer > Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad > Nine Pound Hammer, Midnight Run
Encore: Last Days Of Autumn

Drew Emmitt Band performing "Long Road" at the Morse Theater in Chicago

Emmitt busting out the electric guitar for "Why You Been Gone So Long?" at the Morse

Show available for download at http://bt.etree.org.

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