Everything from old-timey waltzes to blistering offshoots of bluegrass and jazz was performed at Gaston Hall Friday night, as some of the area's best-known singers and pickers celebrated the diversity of acoustic music.
Cathy Fink and Rhythm Ranch set the eclectic tone for the evening by sandwiching a couple of haunting ballads between swinging versions of "Freight Train Blues" and "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie." Although the tunes were tastefully embellished by her bandmates -- mandolinist Marcy Marxer, guitarist Pete Kennedy, fiddler Mike Stein and bassist Ralph Gordon -- even they couldn't upstage Fink's simple but expressive delivery. Most moving of all was her unusual solo banjo arrangement of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."
Guitarist Al Petteway's band Grazz Matazz generally took a more contemporary approach to the music, especially on Kennedy's darting melody "Sunburst" and Petteway's own "Dryad Dance." Pat Petteway's vocals and the band's instrumental finesse also put a fresh spin on tunes by Jesse Winchester and Lowell George.
The program veered more toward country music with the arrival of Mary Chapin Carpenter and a fine band featuring guitarist John Jennings and keyboardist Jon Carroll. Playing acoustic guitar, Carpenter sang in a voice every bit as appealing as her best songs, and while her version of "Hometown Girl" ranked among the show's more intimate highlights, the band displayed a vibrant, freewheeling side as well. "A Road Is Just a Road," for instance, was impossible to resist. Everyone eventually returned to the stage to perform a long and, again, remarkably varied collection of encores.