by Dan Schram
Cat's Cradle, Carrboro
Aug. 23, 2013
Friday at the Cat's Cradle, Mandolin Orange packed every square inch of the storied room with a body. Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz were celebrating the release of their third album and their first for Yep Roc Records, This Side of Jordan.
Walking into the Cradle early in the evening, there was an electricity in the air as many people bustled around to prepare for the doors to open early. In many ways, the event felt as though it was sponsored by the entire community of Carrboro. From local businesses like Steel String Brewery, who released House of Stone IPA earlier in the week, to Fifth Season Gardening Company, Carrboro Coffee Roasters, Carolina Brewery, Milltown and The Station, who provided free samples and catering for a pre-show jam by another Carrboro institution, The Big Fat Gap. It doesn't get really more hometown than that.
After an strong set by the South Carolina Broadcasters, Mandolin Orange took to the stage in front of a massive banner depicting the group's album cover, created by Anne Schroth of Greensboro's Red Canary. Everything seemed in perfect form before they even played one note. Surrounded by longtime bandmates and collaborators James Wallace, Jeff Crawford and Ryan Gustafson, the duo looked relaxed and confident as they gazed out into a sea of people.
And during this evening, as they worked through their new album and mixed in songs from their previous releases, something seemed different. Frantz's fiddle breaks seemed sharp and stronger, while Marlin fought his mandolin in hopes of squeezing out every last note during his solos. The crowd responded by singing along to many songs and cheering as though they weren't watching a folk show. A delightful surprise was that of local pedal steel player Nathan Golub joining the group on stage to add his flourishing touches live just as he had done on the album. Ryan Gustafson and frequent cohort Josh Moore also stepped out front to play new numbers from their upcoming solo efforts while backed by Mandolin Orange and company.
The evening hit its peak as the group encored with a tribute to Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, "Black Muddy River," a song fitting Marlin's voice almost perfectly. And as the evening ended, the hot and packed space began to empty as people walked out with records, Plastic Flame prints and the band's own pint glasses. Backstage the group hugged and popped champagne to celebrate the evening.
Coming a long way in just a few years' time, the group seems poised to take their music to a wider, national audience. Outfitted with an impressive record label, management group and publicity team—and perhaps most importantly, a local community feverishly pushing them forward while embracing them as their own.
Below are a few clips from the evening's performance, "There Was a Time" and "Calvary." Also, Ryan Gustafson, who will be stepping further into the spotlight at next week's Hopscotch Music Festival with a set at Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh, debuted a new song, "Road to Heaven."