No one could be blamed for being a bit cranky these past few days, what with storms and power outages dampening holiday spirit that might have been built in the past month. Thankfully, folks in the Capital Region have Chris Shaw and Bridget Ball and their “Mountain Snow and Mistletoe” concert, in their 10th year at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.
At the first of two concerts, this one on Saturday, the duo offered a festive respite from the gloomy weather and some still-unplowed roads with a set of warm, old-timey string tunes and stories. Shaw and Ball were joined by special guest Roy Hurd and by the usual Mountain Snow Orchestra, featuring Kevin McKrell on guitar and percussion, John Kirk on lead instruments and Brian Melick on percussion, for an evening that stretched for two sets and nearly two hours.
Ball led things off with “Light a Light,” an appropriate spirit-lifter to kick off the celebration. Her smoky vocal delivery was perfectly complimented by Kirk’s fine fiddling, which was a highlight in many of the evening’s songs.
After some international flair with the Czech carol “Good King Wenceslas,” Hurd joined the crew onstage for his original “One Shovel Full at a Time.” His slightly rough-hewn vocals provided a nice counterpoint to Ball’s smooth delivery and Shaw’s powerful bass.
But the best was yet to come in the first half, as Shaw continued another tradition of telling a story about his Uncle Walt. This year’s (tall) tale involved a fortuitous hunting trip one holiday season, when Uncle Walt managed to bag nearly an entire forest of wildlife (or so it seemed) with one bullet.
The stories continued with McKrell and Melick’s own holiday tradition, a comedic reading of “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” While McKrell recited the poem as the straight man, Melick provided sound effects, at one point breaking down into a percussion solo that recalled some of Andy Kaufman’s raucous routines (although Melick was much friendlier with this audience).
Humor also abounded in the second set, especially during a round story, which featured Ball heading out into the crowd for audience contributions.
But there were somber moments as well. Hurd’s “The Most Precious Gift,” a Christmas-themed love song, was perhaps the evening’s most powerful number. Kirk’s “Waiting for the Light” was another high point, featuring a smooth vocal and even smoother fiddle playing.
And of course, there was Shaw’s “Ten Dollar Christmas,” which he performed solo on a fingerpicked acoustic. Although he may have flubbed a chord change here and there, it was the heartwarming lyrics that stole the spotlight, with a true story that sent warm fuzzies up even the most jaded audience member’s back.
Equally fine were traditional holiday numbers such as “Silent Night” and “Aud Lang Syne,” with McKrell’s Irish roots showing strongly during his verses. McKrell also led a rousing sing-along version of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” earlier in the second set that pumped up the audience (even if it inspired little singing).
Miss last night’s show? Don’t fret; just head down to the music hall today at 3 p.m. to catch Ball, Shaw and the rest of the gang for round two.