"National Symphony--rock on!" shouted singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith at Wolf Trap Wednesday .
With the NSO's help, Griffith was paying tribute to fellow Texan and soul mate Buddy Holly when she couldn't contain her enthusiasm any longer. The three-song salute included the Holly rarity "Tell Me How," Griffith's own Hollyesque composition "This Heart" and a version of "Well . . . All Right" that quickly swelled into a show-ending sing-along.
Though not nearly as chummy or as spirited as Griffith's previous tours with Holly's band, the Crickets, this segment of the concert nevertheless inspired some of the evening's liveliest performances. It also threw into sharp contrast a series of beautifully crafted and quietly evocative Southern ballads, written or co-written by Griffith.
Under the direction of conductor Anthony Aibel, the NSO deftly augmented Griffith's seasoned five-piece band, the Blue Moon Orchestra, enhancing the nearly cinematic quality of the songcraft. As the focus shifted from rural struggles ("Trouble in the Fields") to small-town vignettes ("Love at the Five and Dime"), the orchestral treatments sensitively framed Griffith's fragile, aching and unmistakable voice. She joked that some of the arrangements weren't exactly radio-friendly, but given the graceful nature of the orchestrations, perhaps only her accountant would consider that a bad thing.
It was unfortunate, though, that the teaming of Griffith and the NSO cut down on the time the singer was onstage. The NSO's performance of works by Richard Rodgers (overture to "Oklahoma"), Aaron Copland (a pair of dance episodes from "Rodeo") and other composers certainly made for an appropriate and appealing summer soundtrack. But with the time remaining, Griffith was only able to scratch the surface of her distinctive repertoire.