Hot Buttered Rum String Band, Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, CA- 2/5
The scene outside the Great American Music Hall was a mix of great anticipation for those who had tickets and desperation for the many Butter hungry but ticketless fans who were shut out of the sold out show. The Hot Buttered Rum String Band spent much of last year touring heavily across the country in a (recently retired) bus powered by recycled vegetable oil. After having played a sold out New Year's Eve run with fellow bay area friends, New Monsoon, the band hit the road again for a brief tour of the Southwest. It was wonderful to be in attendance as they returned home for their first gig at the historic Great American Music Hall.
Hot Buttered Rum's music appeals to a broad fan base, both young and old. In fact, the grandmother of sound engineer, Josh Osmond, chose to enjoy her 80th birthday with her family dancing the night away. The first set began with "Flask Alas!" which, in prior shows, has been dedicated to the "butterless people of the world." This tune features the impressive voice of banjo player, Erik Yates, who during his improvisational vocal stylings paid tribute to those fans who found themselves "ticketless on the streets of San Francisco." "Evolution," written by mandolin player, Zachary Matthews, describes the climb of bandmate, Bryan Horne, up Mt. Darwin in the Sierra Nevadas. Tonight's version featured an impressive bass solo from "The Man" himself and rousing solos from Nat Keefe (guitar), Aaron Redner (fiddle) and Erik Yates (now on flute). The band thanked the crowd for their support and dedicated "Firefly" to the many family members in attendance and followed it up with a stellar version of "Idaho Pines," dedicated to those who had traveled to join them on this evening. "Sugaree" was not only an appropriate nod to the "boys from over in the Haight" who had graced the stage at the Great American Music Hall many times before, but a real crowd pleaser that had the balcony shaking (one of the loudest roars of approval from the crowd came at guitarist Nat Keefe's promise, "if that jubilee don't come, I'll mix you up some Hot Buttered Rum.")
The band has been working on their second studio effort with the legendary, Mike Marshall. All in attendance were pleasantly surprised when he stepped up for "Well Oiled Machine." This song pays homage to their recently deceased (recycled vegetable oil powered) tour bus, Buster. Don't be alarmed! Nat "stay high with" Keefe, reassured fans that the band had secured transportation in the form of another veggie-oil powered bus on loan from the band, Aphrodesia. Hot Buttered Rum will continue their commitment to alternative fuel.
Although some in attendance had speculated that Marshall might appear, I'm fairly certain no one had predicted that Chris Thile, mandolin virtuoso of Nickel Creek fame, would be added to the mix to wrap up the first set. Hot Buttered Rum and guests played a stellar rendition of "Norwegian Wood," the HBRSB original "Wedding Day," and nearly brought down the house with the first set closer "June Apple." Earlier in the evening, Zachary Matthews (mandolin) shared some prophetic banter, "The only thing better than two mandolins is three mandolins and the only thing better than three mandolins is three fiddles."
The second set began with "Nellie Cane". Matthews sings on this love story which segued into a crowd favorite "Lighten Up Your Load" during which Yateso (now on accordion) reassured the crowd that "the oyster is your world and you… you are the pearl" before transitioning back into the end of! "Nellie Cane." Yateso (now on banjo) continued to delight the crowd with a stirring, "Squall," featuring a haunting melody coupled with his soaring vocals both dialed to perfection by the skilled fingers of sound engineer, Josh Osmond. The crowd stayed with the boys on this one and continuing clapping in rhythm as the song ended. The enthusiastic crowd was joined by a spontaneous guitar solo which morphed into the musical narrative, "In These Parts."
The second set concluded with the return Mike Marshall and Chris Thile who played on "Hobo Song" and "Cumberland Blues." Bryan Horne (bass) sings on both numbers but the highlight for me was the two mandolin solo (Marshall and Thile) followed by the two fiddle solo (Redner and Matthews). Chris Thile and Mike Marshall impressed everyone in the house but perhaps even more rewarding was the sight of both of them smiling and having a damn good time on stage with Hot Buttered Rum. The musicians left the stage with their arms around each other's shoulders in congratulatory embrace as the crowed roared in approval.
The "Dolphin" encore was played with a single microphone to a hushed crowd. This timeless song was written many years ago by the father of guitarist Nat Keefe. Symbolic lyrics that touch on love and war seemed to be the perfect choice to wrap up a wonderful night of music. To the delight of fans the band invited even more guests for the final song of the evening, the traditional number "I'll Fly Away." Hot Buttered Rum was joined by Mike Marshall, Chris Thile, members of the opening band, Poor Man's Whiskey, and a handful of additional musicians. At the bands suggestion the crowd joined in on the chorus and sang beautifully. It was a magical Hot Buttered Rum meltdown at the Great American Music Hall.