Well, we had an absolutely wonderful evening on Friday with our latest guest Rayna Gellert. Old time fiddle legend Rayna was joined by multi-instrumentalist Jeff Keith (who also happens to be her husband!) for this intimate gig at Hepworth Village Hall near Holmfirth. I’d invited Rayna to stop off in Yorkshire during the duo’s trip to the UK, so this was a last minute addition to their tour. There was a good turnout in the hall, which is a beautiful old building set in gorgeous Pennine countryside. It was a really atmospheric setting for a lovely gig which featured lots of Appalachian fiddle tunes and spine tingling renditions of old gospel songs.
Rayna is a renowned old time fiddle player, singer and songwriter from North Carolina. After a number of years in acclaimed string band Uncle Earl, she now performs and records as a solo artist and has also worked with artists in many genres, including John Paul Jones, Robyn Hitchcock and Sara Watkins. She’s also a highly respected fiddle tutor and has taught at music camps and festivals across the USA and Europe. I was privileged to be in Rayna’s old time fiddle class at Sore Fingers Week this year and so I knew just what a massive talent she was (I’d seen her play live a couple of years ago too). As well as being a superb fiddle player, Rayna is a great all-round musician with a lovely and distinctive singing voice. Duo partner Jeff Keith contributed tasteful instrumental accompaniment on guitar and mandolin, as well as spot-on harmony vocals from time to time.
Opening up for Rayna were the UK’s own Kentucky Cow Tippers (from Leeds & Newcastle), who despite the daft name are really excellent young musicians who have been busy developing their instrumental prowess, writing original material and honing their stagecraft in the last few years. They delivered a nicely judged set of bluegrass standards, combined with gentler folky numbers. There was some superb picking and great harmony singing, and judging by the audience reaction they made a few more fans on Friday night.
When Rayna and Jeff took the stage the pace mellowed somewhat, and we were treated to an absolute masterclass in subtle but top class musicianship. They kept the hall spellbound with two sets which ranged from foot-tapping old time fiddle tunes to beautiful waltzes, quirky originals to lovely old gospel songs. Both Rayna and Jeff also have a lovely warm stage presence, and kept us entertained with droll asides and little anecdotes between songs and tunes. Jeff was quite tickled by the fact that we had the Kentucky Cow Tippers playing a support set, as Kentucky is his home state. Drinking and beer also seemed to be a theme of the evening, being a favourite subject matter in traditional songs. We toasted this fact with the excellent bitter and local blonde ale served by the good folks at the village hall. The beautiful arched windows let in the last of the sun on this fine June evening, and it was absolutely magical. Thanks so much to all who came out, and especially to Rayna and Jeff for sharing their glorious music with us. Can’t wait for the next time we see them on this side of the Atlantic!