Daniels is a small town on the outskirts of Beckley, WV. Pianafiddle performed a free show at the Daniels Bible Church (which doubles as a small music venue) as a gift to the community in honor of their manager, Benny. Despite the parking lot and venue being packed, I managed to grab a pew in the second row with a great view of the stage. I arrived only a few minutes before the show started, thanks to my complete lack of navigation skills (I got lost).
I briefly introduced myself to Adam DeGraff and Lynn Wright (a.k.a. Pianafiddle), then got out of their way so they could begin. They played several selections from their albums Bach to Bluegrass and Or Something Like That! (my #9 of 2008), as well as a couple of new covers.
One of the many things that made the live performance even more interesting than the duo’s recordings was the way the two musicians played off of and challenged each other. This was an element of their improvisation that the audience wasn’t always aware of. For example, DeGraff revealed after their rendition of “Ain’t Misbehavin'” (which he dedicated to his cynical classical teachers) that Wright had attempted to trip him up by changing the tempo and the key of the tune from what they normally play. The two men obviously have a lot of fun playing together, and their chemistry made the performance even more entertaining.
A fan favorite and highlight of the first half of the concert was the lovely ballad “When I Grow Too Old to Dream”. Then DeGraff’s five year old daughter wowed the audience by jamming with the two gentleman on “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” – she played the central melody while Pianafiddle improvised around her.
In between songs, violinist Adam DeGraff told various anecdotes about touring, took questions from the audience, and shared the story of how he met pianist Lynn Wright in a local Walmart.
My personal favorite part of the concert was their improvisation of “Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto”. Adam’s classical training was most apparent then, and he played his fiddle with lightning speed. They rounded out the first set with a buoyant montage from “Fiddler On The Roof”.
After the intermission, the duo launched into a beautiful rendering of “Tennessee Waltz” (a song I hope they record on their next album!). A comical “Alley Cat” followed, after which Adam said he’d been instructed by Lynn to make his fiddle “meow like a sick cat”.
I had been hoping that Lynn – who is known as “The Ragtime Reverend” in his hometown – might play a Scott Joplin number and he dished out a jaunty take on “The Entertainer”. I wonder if I’m the only one who associates that particular tune with childhood memories of the local ice cream truck…
The second half of the show closed with “Beethoven’s Orange Blossom”, which grows from a slightly jazzy intro of “Fur Elise” into a genre-hopping conglomeration of jazz, blues, classical, and country. This was followed by a slide show of photographs from the band’s cross-country tour.
I feared Pianafiddle’s set might seem simple and dull in comparison to the WV Symphony performance I attended the previous night, but that was not the case at all. Pianafiddle’s concert was one of the best live performances I’ve ever attended, and I’m happy to hear they’ll be back in Charleston soon.