There are some nights when it all comes together, and the music just takes off, throwing off light like a sparkler. The last show of the season at Tressler’s Barn in Easton, Connecticut was like that. It was a cold night with the barn doors open and the failing afternoon illuminating the dusty artifacts—hanging guitars, dobros and antique concert posters—that attest to the space’s history as the home of hootenannies since the 1960s.
The evening’s stars were Rachel Baiman and Christian Sedelmyer, a/k/a 10 String Symphony and one of an increasing number of boy/girl old-time duos that are keeping this music alive (see The Littlest Birds). On the strength of one album, 10 String Symphony—based in Nashville—is touring the country, playing showcases at the Rockwood Music Hall in New York and the International Bluegrass Music Association.
But this isn’t bluegrass, it’s proudly old-time. Rachel and Christian both sing and play fiddles, which makes for an intriguing blend. Rachel also picks a banjo. They did stuff like John Hartford’s “In Tall Buildings,” a vivid number from Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers, a poignant Townes Van Zandt cover, and very strong originals. Rachel’s “Weight of the World” is destined to be a standard.
10 String also covers the trad “Prettiest Girl (In the County),” and plays it on two fiddles. I noted with amusement that they change “I’m gonna love her in the morning/I’m gonna love her in the evening” to “I can’t get her in the morning.” I pointed out to Rachel how Dirk Powell’s version goes, and she said, “I know, and that version makes more sense, but that’s how we learned and recorded it, so we can’t change it now.” Ah, the folk process! Here’s their version of the song:
Yes, it was freezing, because Tressler’s barn isn’t heated, but it was also delightful. And as an added bonus Dan Tressler himself did a mini-set in the middle. If you haven’t heard him, Dan Tressler is headed for greatness, able to play just about any instrument, and simply one of the best vocalists I’ve ever heard—combining a thorough knowledge of folk history with a soul balladeer’s emotional control. And as attested by his work with String Fingers and (briefly) Cricket Tell the Weather, he’s a great writer, too.
Here’s Dan Tressler and 10 String Symphony together on a Tressler song called “I’m Missing You”: