Written by Bill Whiting
Photos by Scott Preston
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ August 31 appearance at Moonlite Gardens in Cincinnati, Ohio was a highly anticipated event in the tri state area. Many fellow travelers convened on the banks of the Ohio river to soak up the Coney Island amusement park atmosphere that the Moonlite Gardens amphitheatre provides. Welch’s newest release in eight years, The Harrow and The Harvest, has received a tremendous amount of praise from both critics and fans alike. The packed house, and roaring ovation that greeted the duo’s entrance onto the stage was reflective of the excitement that had been building for months in advance of the singer songwriter’s concert in Cincinnati.
Opening with the well known “Orphan Girl,” from the stellar 1996 recording, Revival, Welch and Rawlings set the pace with highly nuanced vocal harmonies and richly textured acoustic musicianship. Welch’s star power glowed brightly as she wowed the audience with her high lonesome singing, and intricate guitar picking on “Scarlet Town” from The Harrow and The Harvest. Rawlings’ prowess on his signature 1935 Epiphone Olympic archtop guitar stunned many pressing close to the stage to hear “The Way it Will Be.” The dynamics of Welch and Rawlings’ sharp and lyrical delivery was best exemplified by the stark reading of Harrow’s standout composition, “The Way It Goes.” By the time they reached the end of the first set with “Tennessee,” Welch and Rawlings had the crowd in a state of blissful rapture with a buzz that circulated through the Moonlite’s upstairs and floor levels. Beginning set two with “Hard Times,” Welch’s intimate banjo picking colorfully complimented her gently swaying performance of the Harvest ballad. “Dark Turn of Mind” entranced the denizens strewn about the gallery with it’s gripping, scenic, and darkly descriptive nature. Welch’s knee slapping and joyfully abandoned dance skills flowered into the participation piece, “Six White Horses.” Welch honored the shouted requests from throughout the aged facility by reaching into her back catalog for the overpowering title track from the 2001 album, Time (The Revelator). Rawlings strummed slowly as his voice blended with Welch’s into an exquisitely beautiful symphony of sound on “Down Along the Dixie Line.”
The pair left the stage, and re-entered to a raucous reception, giving the energetic throng what it clamored for on the opening number from the much hailed 2003 Soul Journey disc, “Look at Miss Ohio.” As they left the stage to the strains of “Jackson,” there was no doubt that Gillian Welch and David Rawlings had delivered one of the best, and original shows in recent memory. It left one hoping that they won’t wait so long to return with new material the next time around.