by Rick Cornell
Big Surprise Tour (Old Crow, Dave Rawlings Machine, the Felice Brothers, Justin Townes Earle)
Koka Booth Amphitheatre, Cary
Monday, Aug. 10
With anywhere from one person to 15 people onstage over the course of the evening, Monday night's Big Surprise Tour in Cary was addition by subtraction and addition by addition and, maybe once or twice, subtraction by subtraction. And, you know, the grand finale part of a multi-act affair like this must be everybody on stage, singing and playing, right? That happened, like, three times, starting with the first song—The Felice Brothers tune that gives the tour its name.
The heat and the revolving door that led to the stage made it a night more for images and quick thoughts, less one for a coherent line of reasoning: images like four fiddles lined up on the riser ready for action; an upright bass on its side looking like part of an ornate sleigh, a thick cooling mist pumping in behind it; a beaming Gillian Welch playing drums surrounded by, in her words, "a lot of dudes."
And the thoughts came fast and usually disjointed: Justin Townes Earle—tightly suspended and looking like a marionette who reluctantly relinquished his strings—already has his song for the ages in "Mama's Eyes." You write best what you know best. And if, for some reason, The Band's "The Weight" gets erased from the record books, The Felice Brothers' "Frankie's Gun" is waiting in the wings to take its place. Sorry, Jason and the Scorchers' "Absolutely Sweet Marie," but David Rawlings' take on "Queen Jane Approximately," majestic and spacious, is now the best cover ever of a Dylan song featuring a woman's name in the title. And how does Rawlings, like Richard Thompson, make one guitar sound like three? The members of the headlining Old Crow Medicine Show were everywhere, their versatility and spontaneous energy suggesting that perhaps they make better utility players than clean-up hitters. In all, the exhilaration of old meeting new, head-on and sweaty, was best captured by an Earle lyric: "I heard an old country song on satellite radio."