Son Volt Electrifies Tradition at the Haw River Ballroom

Son Volt filled the Haw River Ballroom with powerful guitar riffs and fans happy to return to live music

While Nashville was in the midst of the 2021 Americana Music Festival and conference, this past week, in The Piedmont of North Carolina we were treated to a visit from Son Volt, a band born like a phoenix from the ashes and dust of the band Uncle Tupelo, the great pioneers of the Americana genre.

Opening the show was a local North Carolina artist, Florence Dore, of Chapel Hill, who told the crowd that she had just started writing songs again after a 16 year hiatus.

Florence was joined by Mark Spencer who plays guitar, keyboards and pedal steel, with Son Volt.  Her band that night also had another local Greensboro artist on guitar as well, Sam Frazier. She also introduced her husband who was playing drums.   She led the band through a solid performance of old and new material, and even had her daughter join her on stage at one point. I am looking forward to hearing the new release once it becomes available in 2022.

Son Volt rose from the collapse of perhaps one of the first recognized Americana bands, Uncle Tupelo, when they broke up in 1994. Jay Farrar seized the opportunity to form a band out of the collapse to continue to blaze a trail where  Folk, Country, Rock and Roots music was melded into this more than Alternative Country, genre.  Americana is a now more popular than ever and a still growing category in the American music catalog. 

This relatively new genre Americana, is made up of bands that are bending the sounds of the more traditional artists that inspired them to take up instruments, and write songs like torch bearers of inspiration hoping to pass on this legacy to newer generations of listeners. 

As a longtime fan, I see Jay Farrar as a visionary artist, who's six string belief has carried him through decades of sage-like songwriting. The current Son Volt line up also includes keyboardist/steel guitarist Mark Spencer, bassist Andrew Duplantis, guitarist Chris Frame and drummer Mark Patterson.

Farrar, brings a sense of iconic connection when he sings phrases like "The words of Woody Guthrie, ringing in my head." He's reminding us of the legacy of protest songs as well as a sense of Bob Dylan's ability to create visual imagery with his lyrics.  But also Dylan's willingness to push the boundaries of Folk music by electrifying tradition without concern about mixing the sacred with the profane to carry these messages to new audiences.

The band has led a charge to constantly re-invent themselves and their sound.   Often with lyrics that spotlight observations about America while wearing his heart on his sleeve.  Songs that highlight that the sense of idealism created about America as children needs to be tamed with the experience we find as adults.

If you're listening, there are powerful lyrics switching gears between phrases of sage advice, to words that point like a spot light on failures that threaten to keep our country from being able to realize its potential and the wake of sorrow created when its promises are left unfulfilled.

"I'm just asking the same question, how can so much go wrong in a country that is held up as an example to the world of something righteous," explains Farrar 

Lyrics like  "Trying to find the right way to live free or die" come to mind here, words written twenty five years ago, but the words ring even truer today as we struggle to respond to a deadly pandemic

A Son Volt show is like a dance inside a decades old love affair that has the passion of love that has traveled many roads and survived many challenges, two-stepping past hard times, through sheer faith that love can and will overcome all obstacles

If you aren't already familiar, I highly recommend you go back and dig into Son Volt's catalog of music, there's a lot there to appreciate.  And it's also the 25th Anniversary of one of their most successful releases, Trace which has a new box set release to honor that milestone.

Whether you're a fan of the powerful sonic landscapes created by screaming guitar riffs, or of the thought provoking lyrics you aren't likely to leave a show unsatisfied.  

- words and photos by Jerry Friend