Over the past couple of weeks it seems you couldn’t go anywhere without being reminded of the most-anticipated event in the world of entertainment in what seems like years. I am referring of course to the February Frolics, a series of concerts held at Montpelier City Hall to the benefit of Lost Nation Theater, Montpelier’s theatrical gem.
In another example of Vermonters finding a way to cope with the winter, the Frolics are a series of three concerts held on cold, dark nights in the middle of February. The middle concert, held last night, featured Vermont’s outstanding Newgrass ensemble Hot Flannel.
Because it was Valentine’s Day, Doreen and I decided to make a date of it. Since we were a bit late to make reservations, and since Montpelier doesn’t have a ton of vegan-friendly restaurants in the first place, we decided to have dinner at old standby Tulsi Tea Room, with a dessert at the North Branch Cafe. Then we made a short walk through the lightly-falling snow to City Hall, which has an expansive theater on the upper level.
The chairs were starting to fill when we arrived, and by the time the show started the room was full. The theater normally has a concession stand, tonight augmented with a cash bar provided by Sweet Melissa’s. On tap were Fiddlehead IPA and Woodchuck Cider, both symbolic of the band and Vermont. Ticket-buyers were encouraged to wear their finest flannel shirts to the show, and about half of us complied.
Hot Flannel are an acoustic newgrass quartet fronted by fifth-generation fiddler extraordinaire Patrick Ross, who grew up on the Quebec border in Canaan, VT, and whose French roots shone through in his music. In addition to being a virtuoso on the fiddle, Ross is an engaging, enthusiastic and entertaining front man who clearly loves the music he plays and the musicians he plays with. The band also includes Doug Perkins on guitar, Matt Schrag on mandolin, and Pat Melvin on bass. After a few tunes, the foursome was joined on drums by Caleb Bronz, who provided a bit of a funky backbeat. It was when Jeremiah McLane brought his accordion to the stage for a raucous Quebecois throw down, however, that the bodies really hit the dance floor.
Performing most of the night as a septet, Hot Flannel flowed through a variety of genres, from bluegrass to gospel to Quebecois folk to jazz and even funk. A few of the highlights were “A-OK,” “Opus 1,” “Caravan,” and “Working on a Building.” The band occasionally slowed things down with a few waltzes, but also took the opportunity for some improvisational jamming. Though I don’t think they had played out in this configuration before last night, most of the band members had played with other members in other bands over the years, and the interplay in trading off leads and solos seemed very natural.
The Lost Nation Theater on its own is another gem that I will definitely be writing about in the months to come as the production season gets underway. We are lucky to have such an assets available to us in a state small enough that, eventually, everybody comes near where we live. Doreen said as we were dancing a happy jig, “if they were playing music like this every week I would go.”