‘American Songwriters’ explores the country’s musical landscape
“American Songwriters,” a celebratory tour through the American musical landscape featuring the highly talented Chris “Red” Blisset and Trevor Lindley Craft, is up on Millbrook’s Main Stage for three nights, with the final performance tonight at 7:30 p.m.
Chris Blisset, known to Millbrook for his 2004 performance in the foot-stompin’ “Smoke on the Mountain,” was visibly touched to be returning to its Main Stage.
“It’s so good to be here,” he told the audience. “It’s been so long. It’s like the sun came out today.”
In addition to his musical talents, Blisset is also an accomplished actor, composer, and director whose extensive theatre experience allows him to command an easy and almost immediate rapport with the audience.
Trevor Lindley Craft, also a musician/actor, whose credits include performances with several Repertory Theatres, is — like Blisset — a lifelong fan of country music who has toured with country-rock bands around the world. The night I was there, both his mother and grandfather were in the audience, and — with their help — Craft related several endearing stories from his childhood. He was introduced to music by his grandmother, for example, who insisted he learn to play the Star Wars theme on the piano (when what he really wanted was to spend time with X-Box). A warm thank you from us to Trevor’s grandmother!
Performing on a variety of instruments, including accoustic, slide, electric, and bass guitars, mandolin, harmonica, and Cajon drum, the musicians treated the enthusiastic audience to a night of music with America as its theme. Sounding the plaintive cries of a train whistle on the harmonica, Blisset started the performance off with a shout-out to the railroad, which not only connected towns across America but “changed the sound of American music forever.” Johnny Cash, whose music provided a focal point throughout the performance, was known to have said, “You know there’s nothing that stirs my imagination as much as the sound of a steam locomotive.” The idea that music provides a conecting bond between us — even if we live thousands of miles apart — became the theme of the night.
The show paid tribute to such notables as Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, John Denver, Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, and Waylon Jennings, taking us on a tour through America’s own home-grown vagabond, honky-tonk, and outlaw music, the first set ending with a plea to “keep on rockin’ in the free world,” with a special performance on bass by the show’s technical director, Walter Pigford.
The featured artist in the second set was George Jones, who’s been referred to as “The Rolls Royce Of Country Music” and who, according to Wikipedia, had more than 160 chart singles to his name from 1955 until his death in 2013. Johnny Cash once said, “When people ask me who my favorite country singer is, I say, ‘You mean besides George Jones?'” The tone of the performance became more mellow and nostalgic as the two sang “Golden Ring” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” the music of Classic Country.
America was personified, in a way, in this performance, as a restless, seeking, wandering spirit, wanting to come home to love but not always finding it there. If we were asked to provide a slice of American life through its music, the images and songs we chose might be different, but we would still be able to pay homage to the archetypal highwayman, whose spirit was so lovingly evoked in this show.
Blisset ended with a salute to the community for keeping Millbrook open during these difficult times. We’re lucky to have David Leidholdt, he said, who is willing to put his hand to anything that needs to be done, as well as Millbrook’s enthusiastic and committed crew. Blisset generously offered to donate 50% of the proceeds from sale of his CDs to the theatre.
You still have time to see this show that keeps on giving! Tickets are on sale at the box office up until the performance begins.
Karen Elias lives in Swissdale. She taught English for more than 30 years, most recently at Lock Haven
University and Penn College.