While Friday night's concert at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring was billed as a benefit for ailing folk singer Ola Belle Reed, it was a lot more than that. It was also a family reunion, a gathering of musicians and dancers who at one time or another had been touched by Reed and her music. They came together to acknowledge that debt, to reminisce a little and to wish Reed a speedy recovery.
The show opened with a harmonious set by area favorites Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, including a spirited rendition of Reed's "Only the Leading Role Will Do." Mike Seeger then followed with a casual but heartfelt collection of traditional tunes, crisply played on guitar, banjo, mandolin and autoharp. The same old-timey flavor prevailed when he was joined on stage by Hazel Dickens and Ralph Rinzler (on guitar and mandolin) for a series of mournful ballads. Singing in a stark, stirring coal-country voice, Dickens often was mesmerizing, and each lament was more powerful for its unfussy but effective accompaniment.
Also on the bill was one of Reed's sons, Bobby. He was clearly touched by the concert and displayed, in both song and chatter, some of his mother's spirit. Dulcimer player Kevin Roth performed, too, and his recollections of how he came to know Reed were as enjoyable as the open-hearted tunes he sang and played.
The evening was capped by a marvelously entertaining set by the dancing, singing Fiddle Puppets and the Critton Hollow String Band. The Fiddle Puppets are aptly named; each member of the ensemble is seemingly equipped with a pair of swivel-jointed legs. Their imaginative choreography combined elements of clog, step and tap dance into one breathlessly kinetic and vibrantly percussive performance.