Review: Holly Bowling At The Root Cellar
Words By Manda Green
Photos By Dan Luippold
Published April 5, 2017
The Root Cellar
It seems rather cliché to call Greenfield one of those quaint little western Massachusetts towns but that’s what it is. Nestled in the Berkshires, so close to Vermont that I almost expect the air to smell like maple syrup each time I visit… but this evening all I can smell is tacos, yes tacos, the delicious aroma of latin cuisine, emanating from Mesa Verde, a local hot spot, located above tonight’s venue. Alas, though, no time for a burrito, or even a margarita there is music to be heard!
We descend the staircase beside the building and I give my companions the “is this really the right place?” look, to which they smile and nod affirmatively as we enter The Root Cellar. It is a plain and nondescript exterior, the stairs lead down to a smoking alcove and then the main door. If you’ve ever been in a true root cellar, then you may have a general idea of a dark, small space, often with dirt floors and walls, baskets of veggies and other food items stored and kept safe for a long winter… well, other than the dark part, this Root Cellar is nothing like that. A polished wooden bar and deep red paint as well as soft lighting give the space a wonderfully rich warmness and inviting feel. We quickly procured some local beer and a table about halfway back from the stage and settled in to talk to some locals.
What stands out to me, even now writing this later, is that this is the quietest audience I’ve ever been a part of (including Trey Anastasio at the Kennedy Center)… it was akin to being in library. When people chose to speak it was in hushed tones, reverence and excitement in the air, but restrained nonetheless. Now I’m not saying this was weird but I’ll be honest, my family is loud, my friends tend to be loud, and almost all of the concerts I’ve been to in the last 25 years, yep you guessed it… have been LOUD. Now, I’m also not a native New Englander, so I start thinking perhaps this is a regional thing? Or maybe because it’s a Thursday evening? Or maybe that the crowd seems older in general? I don’t know… before I can give it too much thought however, Holly Bowling nonchalantly walks up to the stage and sits down.
If I thought I was geeked out before, it was nothing compared to hearing the beginning notes of Fly Famous Mockingbird. Now I may be a Holly Bowling newb, but I’m certainly not a Phish one, and without that community of phans, I probably would have never heard of Holly, so this is a fantastic opener to me. Cassidy next? Yes, PLEASE! I can sense that we’re in for treat tonight with songs from her new album, Songs Left Unsung.
Another Phish tune follows, It’s Ice and I wonder if anyone has played this song live in Greenfield since the Armory show, 12/5/91…. hmmmm…I don’t have long to wonder before Seven Below is played and I got all caught up in a 2.0 favorite. Those IPA’s started kicking in and I almost “woo’d” ala the silly Tahoe version from a few years ago before remembering that I was in Massachusetts.
A brief intro from Holly preceded the next song, Eyes of the World, the arrangement she used for both Better Left Unsung and the compilation celebrating the Grateful Dead’s 50th Anniversary, always a crowd favorite as well as mine. China Doll closed out the first set and was, as always, amazingly beautiful.
Before beginning the second set, Holly joked that it was the most awkward intro ever and we all laughed. But honestly, this second set has proved harder than I expected to write about… I mean, on paper, its one fluid set, 4 songs, 3 of which are played twice and if you just read that, it sounds kinda odd, right?
However, stop. Close your eyes and think about a labyrinth… no silly, not the epic 1986 movie with David Bowie in tights and big hair, singing alongside freaky Muppets, but an actual LABYRINTH… and not a maze either, the true definition, a “patterned path, often circular in form.” Hmmm, well you may be thinking, “bong.down.brah.” but hear me out, please.
If we look at the second set as a way for the right side of the brain to open up, to encourage intuition, to follow the curvaceous paths along the way with Holly’s note progression, through the nuances of so many parts, then listening to her incorporate them creates an illuminated path. Cryptical Envelopment > The Other One > Theme From the Bottom culminating in Bird Song as the pause for prayer before the journey once more takes us back through the spiral path of Theme From The Bottom > The Other One > Cryptical Envelopment. If I thought that we were all focused on Holly and the music during the first set, it was nothing compared to this, she was truly entrancing throughout.
Encores included Sage and Spirit, which isn’t one of my favorite Dead tunes but transfers very well to Holly’s style of playing and was mystical in an almost Jethro Tull kind of way and finally a rendition of Phish’s upbeat Cars, Trucks, and Buses.
Gracious.Kind.Mesmerzing. That’s how I would describe both Holly Bowling and this show.