Although it’s rainy and cold in Morristown, NJ, this Tuesday, October 3, 2022 evening, inside the MPAC auditorium, the atmosphere is warm and inviting as audience members ready themselves for a concert by the roots music group, The Wood Brothers.
Opening for The Wood Brothers tonight is Vermont singer/songwriter Kat Wright, who takes the stage along with guitarist Bob Wagner and bassist Josh Weinstein.
Announcing, “Hello! How’s it going? We’re going to do some California music,” Wright and her trio open with a folksy cover version of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “You Don’t Have to Cry,” the group’s clear expressive voices ringing out on the “Cry my baby/You don’t have to cry’” refrain.
Wright’s voice rises above her colleagues’ vocals on “You Got Problems,” and guitarist Bob Wagner is featured on his original tune, “Take Me With You,” before Wright and Co. perform “Piece of My Heart.” Bass and acoustic guitar set up a reggae-inspired groove as Wright makes this Janis Joplin classic her own, singing it with soft dynamics instead of the belting style many vocalists employ.
The crowd responds with cheers and applause for this expressive cover.
“Reminder” is a folk ballad on which Wright uses the metaphor of the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly to help listeners let go of fear if they “want to fly,” and Wright’s melancholy vocal is underscored by a softly-picked guitar and a bouncing bass line on “Can’t Explain.”
Her appealing country-tinged voice draws the listener in to “Lover and Tides” before Wright dedicates her final number, “I’ve Been Down,” to Loretta Lynn.
Singing with power on the conclusion, Wright elicits a standing ovation from the crowd.
Following her set, Wright greets fans in the MPAC lobby, where we ask her to share her thoughts about performing here in the Garden State with The Wood Brothers. Exclaims Wright, “I love New Jersey! It’s full of great people who have great taste, and I love the natural beauty here,” before acknowledging, “The Wood Brothers are one of my favorite bands. They’re kind and generous people, and I love working with them — they’re just awesome!”
The crowd cheers as The Wood Brothers — guitarist Oliver Wood, bassist Chris Wood, and percussionist Jano Rix — take the stage and open their set with “Never and Always.”
In his distinctive country twang, lead vocalist Oliver Wood croons “Salvation is just out of reach/Guess that’s the way the night oughta be” as Chris Wood expertly plays electric bass and provides background harmonies with Jano Rix who also adds rhythmic percussion.
Vocal harmonies are featured on the group’s country-funk tune, “Wastin’ My Mind,” and Oliver asks the crowd to give a big hand for Kat Wright before launching into the up-tempo and folksy “Little Bit Sweet” where audience members move to the infectious groove under blue and purple lights.
Oliver’s voice soulfully croons, “The last phone booth in New York City/Ringin’ all day callin’ somebody home,” as the band cooks on the delightfully funky “Alabaster.” Lights flash to the rhythm as Chris dances loose and funky to his brother’s guitar playing and audience members heartily express their approval.
Three-part harmonies shine on “One Drop of Truth,” a soulful slow rocker which features Chris on upright bass and a jam session which elicits cheers and applause from the happy crowd.
Oliver plays jazz guitar, Jano plays keyboard, and Chris bows his bass and plays harmonica on “Postcards from Hell,” where Oliver’s vocal cries out with feeling as he croons, “I know a man who sings the blues/Yeah, he plays just what he feels,” on this rhythmic folk song.
A highlight of The Wood Brothers’ set is their performance of the jazz and funk-inspired “Little Bit Broken.” Music lovers sing along on the ultra-catchy “Everybody is a little bit broken and it’s alright/(It’s alright)” chorus as Jano plays keyboards and drums at the same time while Chris simultaneously plays harmonica and bass.
The crowd hoots and hollers and Oliver responds, “Thank you! It’s good to be in Jersey!” before Jano comes forward to play melodica on the poignant ballad, “The Muse,” where the crowd sings along on the “Times like these so sweet and so true/Thinkin’s the last thing that you wanna do” refrain.
Oliver declares, “It’s time to do a drinking song!” and the trio launches into “I Got Loaded,” where vocal harmonies rule as Jano rhythmically taps on the “shuitar” — a vintage guitar with percussion instruments attached to it.
After Oliver dedicates “River Takes the Town” to “all the people affected by Hurricane Ian,” Chris follows up by impressing the crowd with a walking bass solo on “Atlas,” a country-two-step on which he skillfully slides and bends the strings of his instrument.
Music lovers stand and dance to the joyful noise that floods the theater on “Happiness Jones,” and Chris does a happy dance which brings cheers and whistles. Then, Chris bows his acoustic bass for effect and Oliver plays slide guitar on the country-rocker, “Can’t Look Away.”
Oliver asks, “How are you feeling out there on this casual Tuesday night?” prior to adding, “It’s kinda like we’re playing in somebody’s living room!” Then, Oliver, Chris, and Jano come together downstage to sing around an old-fashioned radio-style microphone, and Jano uses brushes on the “shuitar” while the group performs “Loaded.”
Oliver invites Kat Wright and her trio back to the stage for a bluesy rendition of “Sing About It” which is accompanied by Oliver on guitar, Chris on acoustic bass, and Jano on melodica.
Chris switches over to electric bass and starts the funky intro to “Little Blue.” Oliver croons “Little blue drop of water/Floating in emptiness/Everybody that I know and love/That’s where they live,” as he accompanies himself on guitar.
The band jams on this funky tune which has Jano playing keyboard with his right hand while playing drums with his left.
The crowd hoots and hollers and Jano starts off on drums before Chris and Oliver join in on electric bass and guitar on the fast-moving “Snake Eyes” which has audience members dancing at their seats. The band follows up with “Luckiest Man” where Oliver invites the crowd to sing along on the “You’re the luckiest man” refrain prior to exclaiming, “We love you! Thank you so much!” and the band exits the stage.
Audience members stand and cheer, the band returns, and Oliver declares, “Thank you, we really appreciate it!” before the musicians conclude their set with “One More Day.” Music lovers dance to the tune’s irresistible vibe and Chris dances loose before picking up his bass and harmonizing with his colleagues on the memorable “What did I tell you?/What did I say?/Just when your faith is gone/Give it one more day” chorus to audience cheers and applause.
“Thank you all so much!” exclaims Oliver. “Let’s do this again soon!” and The Wood Brothers take their final leave of the stage.
As audience members make their way out of the MPAC auditorium, we chat with several who share their opinions of tonight’s show. Exclaims Elaine from Philadelphia, “Before tonight I was a Wood Brothers virgin, but now I’m a fan!” Whereas Avi from Queens contends, “The Wood Brothers are a great band and they put on a fantastic show tonight!” Elizabeth from East Orange insists, “They were terrific! The Wood Brothers always put on a great performance. Every time I’ve seen them they’ve been great!”
Matthew from Harmony Twp. remarks, “This concert blew me away — it was unbelievable! I came for The Wood Brothers but now I’m also a Kat Wright fan,” and Damon from Edison relates, “This is what music is all about! It’s poetry — The Wood Brothers’ music is just spilling out of us now!”
Lastly, Peter from Califon declares, “This was some of the best music I’ve ever heard — The Wood Brothers just keep getting better and better with age!” noting, “This is what you listen to music for. It went from my ears to my smile,” before concluding, “Their music is just life affirming!
To learn more about The Wood Brothers, please go to thewoodbros.com. For more info on Kat Wright, please click on katwright.com. For information on upcoming concerts at MPAC — including Philip Phillips on Nov. 3, Trombone Shorty on Nov. 4, Darlene Love on Nov. 26, and Michael Bolton on Dec. 7 — please go to mayoarts.com.
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