Years ago, the Flatlanders were young, hip and at the top of their musical game. Tuesday night at Cats Cradle, they proved that they still have what it takes. From the first soulful twang of the acoustic guitar to the last hit on the drums, the band put on a show to remember.
Frontmen Butch Hancock, Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore know how to please a crowd, and they clearly have a lot of fun doing it. Each plays the acoustic guitar, and each takes turns on lead vocals -- though occasionally all three sing at once.
Their music is a blend of old-fashioned bluegrass and country rock. Originally from Texas, they call themselves the Flatlanders due to a remark Hancock made in the band's early days.
"(Texas) was so flat there you could see 50 miles in every direction," he said. "If you stood on a tuna can, you could see 100 miles."
Many of the band's songs are relatively simple, though they are always vibrant and heartfelt. They reflect on everything from their childhood to the society they live in.
Hancock started writing songs when he drove a tractor on his father's farm.
"One day I discovered that second gear at two-thirds throttle was the key of G, and I eventually figured out that I could play all the songs I knew," he said.
The band played for a near-sellout crowd and responded by putting on a blistering 15-song set, followed by five songs spread out over two encores.
The audience members didn't just listen to the music. In some ways, they were an extra member of the band, at one point shouting for 30 seconds on command.
In addition to acoustic guitar, the band also featured an electric guitarist, a drummer, and a bassist. Hancock doubled on harmonica.
It was evident that each member had great respect for the other members of the band. During a pause between songs, Ely told of his respect for Hancock. "I was once destined to be a great songwriter -- until I met Butch Hancock."
The chemistry between the band members was one of high energy and perfect fit. After playing for years, each member knows when to sing out and when to sit back to let the spotlight shine elsewhere.
Particularly nice were the electric guitar solos. Few and far between, they were elegant while at the same exciting. The guitarist truly enjoyed being on stage, relishing his space in the spotlight.
After the initial set, the audience members did not just ask for more, they demanded it. They went further than clapping enthusiastically -- they stomped their feet, the sound reverberating throughout the venue.
Keeping with the traditional bluegrass spirit, some of the band's songs were humorous anecdotes.
In one song, the band sang about a boy getting caught by his father while drinking beer. The father responded: "You got nothing to fear/For drinking the beer/If you share it with the son of God"
They introduced one of their songs, titled "Right Where We Belong" by telling the audience that they really were right where they belong.
And it seems that the Cat's Cradle really was right where they belonged -- at least for one night. After walking into the Cat's Cradle, everyone was transported into a different world. For the two hours that the band played, the soul of Texas was in Carrboro. And although the performance may be over, for those at the show, that soul will remain for some time to come.
The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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