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Revisiting Rising Appalachia at Britt Fest

Rising Appalachia, Britt Fest, Jacksonville, OR- 8/27

MacGyver’s of music, sisters: Chloe Smith and Leah Song, could have made music out of a can of soup and rubber bands. Though they often did it with less. Utilizing synchronized, syncopated voices, snapping fingers and clapping hands, they began the night with beautiful music born from the tools of flesh alone.

Crafty, witchy women, a hypnotizing depth permeated the tendrils of their musical and vocal toolsets. Dipping the cloth of their vocal chords into a bucket of raw sound, they squeezed and dripped music from their bodies. Magic and beauty met with some ass-kicking boots and had a soiree around a blazing fire sparking flight and feeding capitalistic, systemized, political institutions’ ashes to the roots. Unsure of the extent of the magic show, I watched for a rabbit pulled out of a hat. It was apparently a vegan type of act and the magic remained in the interesting blend of sound these two siblings played against the unseen wall of their mosaic childhood.

With a lifetime of collaborated woven whispers between them, Chloe and Leah played music like a blind lover’s touch. Singing unseen spaces between breath, the music was raw creation in action performed by genre dismantling chemists. Both women dueled in complimentary vocal sword dances as well as instrumentally on: banjos, fiddles, guitars, tambourine, clave and bodhran (a traditional Irish drum). Backed by Biko Casini on percussion and David Brown on the stand up bass, baritone guitar and banjo; they played a full set of new and old songs steeped in politics, tradition, poetry, rap, folk roots, Southern soul, love and a dance party or two.

As curious, constant, students of music they have studied the local and traditional music of the regions they’ve traveled and held long-time habitations. The performance echoed flavors of the soils they’d tasted. Many oozed the swampy, sultry seduction of New Orleans and the South of their youth. As Leah put it, “There’s no better space to be a student of roots and traditional music, than New Orleans.” With a patient, sexy, humid saunter they plunged low into, Lean In, then rode it to an upswing Appalachian hoe down. A few roots stuck a bit deeper in, Swoon, from the lower chakras (as Leah put it) with a dip in chocolate sauce, followed by a lick off all those toes.

They spoke a counter culture language of native practices, herbalism and medicine passed down through tradition. Other songs spoke hard truths about prisons and the current political climate we face as a nation.

Putting instruments aside, the sisters returned to harmonized vocal play with a stunningly beautiful, traditional Bulgarian song, Zavidi Me Lalino. They learned the tune in a 3 week immersion with the women song-holders of this nation—where they took a break from playing American coffee shops, at the time, to assume the notoriety of Madonna in this part of the world. Traveling the night’s musical highway to Italy, they played, Stromboli. The first collaborative song from the entire band, it interwove an old-time tune, American gospel, dueling violins and a cacophony of musical conversations that broke the telephone lines. Back to children of the 80’s, they wove dance party, hip-hop into the set, and brought the openers, Chali 2na and Dustin Thomas, to the stage for an impromptu rap. The music morphed to fit each wholly unique sound, weaving the ribbons of their stretched words and oratory hearts, seamlessly through these varying brands of diverse auditory culture.

The last show in their tour, there were a few kinks in the music, but also a more relaxed and playful stage presence. The music had a place for inspiration, beauty, spirituality, protest, story, seduction and dance. Building off the Eldridge Cleaver quote claiming: there’s no more neutrality, you’re either part of the solution or part of the confusion, Rising Appalachia were self-proclaimed, “Solutionaries,” utilizing the range and potential of their voices draped in skill, beauty and soul, to inspire a better world.

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