Tuesday, May 11, 2004; Page C09
You have to wonder what makes six young men in their early twenties want to pick up banjos and mandolins and form a bluegrass band, but there they were on Saturday at an outdoor festival in Reston Town Center, leaning into a single microphone and strumming and harmonizing the way bluegrass bands have for the better part of a century.
All hail King Wilkie.
With their MTV-ready looks -- guitarist-vocalist Johnny McDonald could be Brad Pitt's younger brother -- and obvious musical talent, the members of King Wilkie could probably enjoy more success doing the rock thing, but their hearts simply aren't in it. For some reason they prefer to play timeworn melodies in time-tested methods handed down from rural holler to holler. Dressed in suits and ties and playing with the kind of passion that comes from someplace other than a paycheck, the Nashville-based band freshened up the requisite bluegrass handbook -- Bill Monroe, Ralph and Carter Stanley, etc. -- and shuffled in original compositions that stood up well by comparison. King Wilkie -- the band is named for Monroe's horse -- eschews the temptations of New Grass, Jam Grass or any other Grass-of-the-moment and seemed content to play the music as it was intended.
McDonald and mandolin player Reid Burgess do the bulk of the heavy lifting, but when they get their chance to solo, banjoist Abe Spear, guitarist Ted Pitney and upright bassist Drew Breakey prove their mettle. In fact, fiddler Nick Reeb should get more solo time -- each time he stepped up to the mike was a thrill.
Sharing the festival bill with King Wilkie was Washington's reigning go-to party band, the Hula Monsters, who put forth another high-spirited set of ukulele and lap-steel roots rock. Elvis, Johnny Cash and Ernest Tubb, among others, were successfully channeled via the South Pacific.
-- Buzz McClain
Eclipse Chamber Orchestra
Patrons of the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra have excellent, if predictably mainstream, tastes, as was shown in a concert Sunday at the Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church. The program, titled "As You Like It," was based on a questionnaire distributed to the audience at each concert that asks what music people would like to hear.
Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola and Dvorak's Serenade for Strings, both securely in the classical Top 40 and both unquestionable masterpieces, were logical choices. Some pieces, such as "Scheherazade" and "Pictures at an Exhibition," are out of the question for a chamber orchestra, no matter how many votes they might get. But did the audience vote for Handel's Overture to "Berenice," a seldom-heard work that opened the program?
Conductor Sylvia Alimena, who (commendably) talks to the audience before most numbers, explained that this work was chosen by combining two responses: "anything baroque" and "anything by Handel." With this subterfuge, she managed to slip an unfamiliar masterpiece in with the familiar ones, giving the program a refreshing novelty to balance its welcome deja vu.
The performances throughout were vigorous, lyrically phrased, transparent in sound and rich in texture. The practice of featuring orchestra members as concerto soloists paid off in the Mozart, which highlighted violinist Natasha Bogarchek and violist Mahoko Eguchi in a finely coordinated performance.
Alimena paced the performances beautifully and brought out particularly well the contrasting rhythms and textures in the Dvorak.
-- Joseph McLellan
"I used to be afraid that the music was going to die," Michael Bublé said on Sunday night at Lisner Auditorium. "Thank you so much for keeping this music alive." Bublé was referring to such standards as "Fever" and "The Way You Look Tonight," but he also covered more recent tunes: George Michael's "Kissing a Fool," the Bee Gees' "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart."
Bublé's musical inspiration came from his grandfather's encouragement and influence, and his eight-piece band (trombone, two trumpets, saxophone, piano, guitar, upright bass and drums) gave the songs of that era a youthful energy. His voice has drawn obvious comparisons to Frank Sinatra's and Bobby Darin's. Bublé's sultry vocals were smooth and flawless, almost to an extreme. The charm of "Moondance" has always been rooted in Van Morrison's slightly off-pitch warble, but Bublé's note-perfect, jazzed-up version gave the song a sleazy feel.
Beyond such obvious song choices, pleasing the audience was Bublé's main focus throughout the 90-minute performance, the most calculated example being an '80s medley (rehearsed to appear spontaneous) featuring a few lines of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" to ecstatic cheers. He even jumped off stage between songs to pose for a photograph with a fan.
Bublé ended the final song of the night, "My Funny Valentine," by singing away from his microphone; the power of his voice carried the song to the back of the auditorium. Throughout the set, he displayed the vocal prowess to attack songs from a variety of eras, and his song selection and delivery were well-received, easing his fears that this music might soon be forgotten.
-- Catherine P. Lewis
© 2004 The Washington Post Company