Monday, September 28, 2009

Natalie Merchant shakes it up in Colonie

In the 1770s, the Shakers built a settlement in Albany County that turned the area during the 19th Century into a major tourist attraction. People came from all over to the Shaker meeting house for the music and dancing shows cult members put on, hoping to lure new recruits. Proselytizing was difficult since the major tenets of the group appear to have been celibacy, uncomfortable furniture and lush gardens. All of that is remarkably preserved at the Shaker site out by the airport. The wooden meeting hall with giant 36-pane windows and a floor that works like a drum when dancers or fiddlers stomp on it. Efforts are underway to restore the site and turn it into an entertainment and conference center and singer Natalie Merchant whom I've always loved gave two benefit concerts Sunday. Sister Lisa went to the morning show and I got the evening show, so the Armaos, devotees of all that is the opposite of Shakerdom, are now major contributors to preserving their memory.

Merchant sings poet songs and old folk melodies that could not have fit better into this locale. She said she wanted to perform in this unusual room with acoustics so precise that audience members shifting on the uncomfortable wooden benches or dropping a program made a racket and she used the room well, dancing and strolling up aisles and around the bleachers with guitar, fiddle and banjo player in tow. But she also had to contend with the lack of air conditioning that must have been her want to melt inside a long-sleeved belted dress, boots and a veil of heavy black hair. And brag about acoustics as you want, when she sang at one end of the hall, those at the other could make out few words. A mike might have been nice. Also there are no lights so that by the end of the second show she appeared as little more than a melodic smudge to people sitting in the back of the room. She allowed photos with no flash, but that was the same as not allowing them (see above)

But complaints are out of order. This was a warm, intimate and really special concert.

The Times-Union did a nice writeup and got better photos:

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