Imagine my delight when I discovered that after booking a trip to New York, Mark Erelli would be playing on the penultimate day of my holiday, in the heart of the city. Erelli has long been a favourite of mine; I first heard him sing on a sampler put out by the Signature Sounds label more than a decade ago. That led me to COMPASS AND COMPANION his 2001 album and today, accompanied by Charlie Rose on pedal steel and banjo, he started with Ghost from exactly that collection of songs – sometime the stars just align!
Stuyvesant Oval is an open space in the middle of an 80-acre private park in East Village; the summer concert series celebrates roots and rock music by putting on some of the country’s best independent acts – it’s most definitely the place to be on a sunny, Saturday afternoon! The all-ages audience was made up of families picnicking on the lawn, children playing with their toys, bikini-clad young women cultivating their tans, young men showing off, residents in wheelchairs chatting to their neighbours and fans like me just soaking up the atmosphere and the music.
The music ranged from tender love songs, Pauline, to thoughts about family, August, to growing up, Basement Days, to socio-political commentary The Only Way showing how Erelli is at ease exploring different lyrical themes. He has always been comfortable too with the exploration of different musical styles and his chosen collection of songs varied from contemporary folk tunes, to rock and roll, to bluegrass before finishing with a touch of Western Swing, Troubadour Blues.
Whilst Erelli has forged a successful solo career, he is also in demand as a sideman playing with Lori McKenna and Josh Ritter - it doesn’t stop there though. He pairs up with Rani Arbo as the Haymakers and a more recent side project, which is attracting a lot of attention, is his involvement in Barnstar! A five-piece collective, whose love of bluegrass shines through their debut release C’MON! From that album he and Rose (who is also in Barnstar!) chose to play Charlottesville ‘I can’t play fast but Charlie can, I can sing high’ he said introducing the song whereupon both just ripped it up!
Each month, Erelli publishes a newsletter on his website (www.markerelli.com) and makes a free (song) download available – recently he covered Don Henley’s The Boys of Summer and it was good to hear him play that live. Another cover, this time in tribute to the late Levon Helm was the Band’s Ophelia. Erelli always comes across as thoughtful in his choices and today was no exception. As I sat on the lawn, absorbing the music, the sun, the laid back vibe of the afternoon I found myself wishing that it wouldn’t end but as they say ‘all good things must come to an end’ and after fourteen songs Erelli and Rose took their bows. A gorgeous day, a serendipitous day – next time I see him perhaps it will be a little closer to home, but wherever it is it’ll be worth it! Jela Webb
Photo credit: Richard Webb
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