The Fourth of July is one of America’s two major holidays and is always celebrated in a huge way in the United States. So folks happening upon the Coffee Shop in Strathpeffer last night could have been forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a slice of American Brigadoon. Owners Mark and Anya pulled out all the stops, dressing the cafe in stars and stripes bunting, huge American flags, and even a Confederate flag or two for good measure. Also serving chilli dogs, root beer and Mountain Dew, even the food captured the spirit of Americana. But visual and culinary delights aside, the assembled crowd were actually there to experience Californian country music artist, Rick Shea. Local music legend Rob Ellen has been trying to bring Rick to the Highlands since 2005 and Monday night’s performance culminated those efforts in a superb way.
The night opened to a 3 song set by local artist Gilbert Anderson, whose rich vocals left the audience craving more. Gil opened with American country song ‘Long Black Veil’. First recorded by Lefty Frizzell in the 50’s, it tells the story of a man sacrificing himself to the gallows in order to protect his lover from being found out. ‘Five and Dime’ followed, a heart-warming love song with a beautiful melody that was brought out superbly by Gil’s finger picking style and smooth voice. Anderson finished off with ‘Reuben James,’ made famous by Kenny Rogers. This was superbly played and sung, and rounded out a great American set.
Contin based artist ‘Bull’ Fash Stewart was up next. Fresh from a European tour, Fash provided a whirlwind performance of his best known and loved songs, eliciting spontaneous sing-alongs and much hilarity from the audience. A brilliant natural born performer, it was great to see Fash back in his local surroundings, and he was on top form. ‘Here’s to the next time that we meet’ finalised his set, and I am sure the whole audience looks forward to that.
Rick Shea kicked off his set with ‘No good time for leavin’. With a voice made for country music, and a fabulous honky tonk guitar sound, we were instantly transported to a back room bar in America. Rick followed with a classic yodelling song called ‘Steady drivin’ man.’ Next up, the title track of his latest album, ‘Shelter Valley blues.’ is set in a remote California region, and a tribute to the hard places we sometimes find ourselves in life. The song has a distinct Bakersfield sound and reached number 3 on the EuroAmericana charts in 2009. ‘Ty Robby’ followed, another with a distinct Buck Owens twang, but mixed very successfully with more than a hint of Irish Gaelic traditional. A song written for Rick’s wife Suzie introduced a bit of Ritchie Valens to the night. ‘Sweet little Pocha’ had a great bass line that had the audience rockin’ in their seats. Another Mexican influenced number, ‘Magdalena,’ was a lament to a Mexican-American Romeo and Juliet, with beautiful Spanish influenced classical guitar.
Halfway through his set now, Rick introduced his first covers. Written by his early musical mentors on the folk club circuit in California, ‘Rachael’ and the ‘San Bernadino Waltz’ are soft and gentle melodic folk songs. ‘Georgia Pines’, one of Shea’s traditional country ballads, called to mind the sights and smells of a Georgia long leaf pine forest. In tribute to the Fourth of July, ‘the Do Re Mi’, a Woody Guthrie song about dustbowl refugees initiated a spontaneous sing along. Rather ironic for such an insightful song into the truth of the American Dream, but rousing none the less. In response to the willing audience, Rick then launched into ‘Jambalaya (On the Bayou)’ and the audience happily rose to the challenge, singing along at full voice. With an excellent guitar solo in the middle, this was a great end to the set.
For his encore Rick returned to more Mexican influences. Written by Rick’s Mother in law, the song ‘Why do you leave?’ was performed solely in Spanish, but the vocal sentiment and guitar arrangement left no doubt as to the sorrow of the singer. Lightening the mood to finish on a happier note, and with a final nod to California, the last song had a superb rockabilly feel. With every foot in the place tapping and some of the audience ready to jump out of their chairs to dance, Rick’s guitar picking brought the house down in style. Courtesy of Shea’s Mexican Father in law, the Spanish chorus of this song held very wise words for any man to learn, in any language. The chorus of ‘Que mas quieres, Que mas bueno as ser’ translates as ‘what more do you want, what else can I do?’ Wise words indeed, and a wonderful ending to a great night.
The Fourth of July 2011 brought an amazing slice of America to the Highlands of Scotland. Thanks to Gilbert Anderson, Fash Stewart, Rick Shea and Rob Ellen, the lucky coffee shop audience experienced the best of American music. With a little something for everyone, it was yet another triumph for the wee coffee shop in Strathpeffer. If you can catch any of these musicians in person, you will not be disappointed. Likewise, any chance you have to attend a gig at the Strathpeffer Coffee Shop, grab it with both hands, you won’t regret it.
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