Carbon Leaf in Townsend, TN
photo credit: Alisa B. Cherry
Given their eclectic stance — a musical mash-up that combines folk, indie rock, alt-country, and Celtic influences — Carbon Leaf is never at a loss when it comes to stirring the senses and offering opportunity for sharing a celebration. For a public that’s been confined to what seems like an endless isolation, as spurred on by the pandemic, that ready release is all the more appreciated.
Consequently, when the Virginia-based band performed for a modest crowd at the beautiful Dancing Bear Lodge in Townsend Tennessee, located a short distance from the entrance to Smoky Mountain National Park, the ambiance of the environs offered all the opportunity needed for a welcome return. A sloping amphitheater situated on a tree-lined lawn, the setting emitted a festival-like vibe tempered by a more intimate experience.
A populist outfit that retains a loyal following, Carbon Leaf are occasionally considered a jam band, due not only to their prolific prowess — evidenced by some 16 albums released over the course of the past 25 years — but also as a result of the astute skills shared by its musicians —
Barry Privett (vocals, penny whistle, lyrics and percussion), Carter Gravatt (acoustic and electric mandolin, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, fiddle, and vocals), Terry Clark (electric and acoustic guitars and vocals), bassist Jon Markel and drummer, percussionist, guitarist and backing vocalist Jesse Humphrey. That said, the songs emphasize memorable melodies and an upbeat approach that echoes through each refrain, given no shortage of compelling and catchy choruses.
That was evident from the outset, given the high pitched whistles that reverberated through the set’s opening entry, “Love Rain Down,” and the kinetic connection found in the song that followed, “What About Everything.” Indeed, the material was exceedingly tuneful and exuberant throughout, without any need to cater to commonplace concerns. Much of the credit belongs to Privett, whose dulcet tones and commanding range allowed the songs to leave an indelible impression. On songs such as “Gifts from the Crows” and “Come Sunday Morn” (the latter taken from their recent EP, The Gathering), the Irish inflections are obvious, especially when Privett played his penny whistle and Gravatt finessed the fiddle. “Attica’s Flower Box” found the band ricocheting along at a double-time pace, a wordy treatise immersed in some thoroughly rousing revelry. Likewise, on “She’s Gone,” the final number prior to the encore, the tempo turned on a jaunty jig, one which insured even the most reticent observers would be up on their feet and waving their hands wildly in the air.
“Conserving energy and knowing when to save it is key,” Privett remarked several days prior to the show. “It’s always energizing to have people show up and respond to what you are doing, so you feed off of that. We always try to put ourselves in the shoes of those that are making the effort to come out and see us. That is a big, big deal.”
Not surprisingly then, the band offered some mirth with the music. “This is our first show in a year,” Privett announced prior to conceding that he was bending the truth. “I’m lying,” he admitted. “It’s our fifth show for this year.”
Still, the band’s enthusiasm was obvious, owed no doubt in part to the idyllic environs. “We’re so delighted,” Privett insisted. “When we got the call, it was like in the movie ‘Ghost Busters.’ We slid down the fire pole yelling, ‘We got one!’”
That said, while much of the music was presented as lighter fare, there were also occasional moments of respite. The most moving moment of the evening came with a number titled “The War Was In Color,” a poignant pastiche that shares the realities of conflict from a pensive and personal perspective.
After the formal set, the band reemerged at the venue’s fire pit where they shared a few acoustic numbers sans mics or amplification. It was a peaceful end to an enticing evening, an assured reminder of the communal connection that’s ready to reemerge as the last need for lockdown finally fade away.