This year marks the 25th Anniversary of Richmond, VA-based band, Carbon Leaf, and they’re celebrating it on the road. As often happens when Carbon Leaf comes to town, I found myself there. And it’s not just because of the photos and review, but because I really love the experience. But I’ll come back to that later.
For this first stretch of the tour, the band were joined by solo upright bassist, Scott Mulvahill. Mulvahill, who made a name for himself by spending five years playing alongside Ricky Skaggs in the Grammy-winning band Kentucky Thunder, caused me to raise an eyebrow when I first saw him emerge onstage. “How,” I thought to myself, “can a solo bass player entertain a roomful of people for half an hour?” I have a tendency to put my foot in my mouth, and by the end of his set I was standing in line at the back of the room, now singing a melody to the tune of “take my money” for his EP, Top Of The Stairs.
Scott has a voice like velvet and can pluck, slap, and bow a bass like nobody’s business. But it was in his down-to-earth attitude and affability that he won over the crowd. “As you may have noticed,” he began, “I’m a solo bass player. I could really use some clapping for this next song, but if you stop…at any point… it will be extremely awkward for your lone bass player.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bass player, all alone, get cheered so loudly.
As I was saying, I really love the experience! Carbon Leaf doesn’t just put on concerts; they throw family gatherings. They bring a storied history with them, like a family often does, with inside jokes and traditions that they have built with their fanbase over time. If you’ve attended any of their shows in the last five years or so, or you’ve read my previous reviews, you’ll be well aware of the one-mic portion of the show. The band gathers around a single microphone, acoustic instruments at the ready, and the audience hushes to a whisper…or as much as alcohol will allow. But sometimes one tradition finds its way into another, such as when the jovial holiday tradition of “Carter’s Christmas Beard,” a little ditty sung by bassist Jon Markel as an ode to guitarist Carter Gravatt’s winter solstice shavelessness, makes its way into the air – cutting off the intro to another song. The laughter that results doesn’t make sense to anyone but family.
And that togetherness goes hand-in-hand with their upcoming album, Gathering Vol. 1 (out June 1st), which we were privileged to hear most of that night. The album is said to be about community, and the two tracks which opened the show, “Come Sunday Morn” and “Bow & Arrow,” certainly brought the audience together quickly. The band were as full of energy as the first time I saw them, nearly a decade ago. And while the evening soon turned into a Maryland turf war over who could spoil the band the most with drinks, leaving guitarist Terry Clark merely uttering “Oh no!” as more rounds appeared on stage, and vocalist Barry Privett warning, “this will not go how you think it’s going to go,” it was a wonderful time for all in attendance. At the end of the show, closing out with another one of the new tunes, “Gift From The Crows,” the band members all filed out and sat down at a table to greet anyone and everyone who wanted a moment of their time, a picture, and an autograph. They stayed until the venue started kicking people out, and lingered even then to hear another fan’s long-awaited confession about what their music meant to them.
They’re good people, and you won’t regret it if you take time to see them live this year. They’ll be around.