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All words: Erin Holmes

In case you didn’t know, lots of stuff/music was happening in DC on Friday night. But maybe you had an all-too-familiar yearning to end your weekly music adventures with some fierce fiddling, and perhaps you found yourself at Black Cat for Horse Feathers’ late show. Late meaning they went on at 11:24pm, which you might’ve worried was a little late for fiddling. You’d’ve been wrong.

Their set actually started off with my two favorite HF songs: “Last Waltz” from the new album right into “Belly of June” from 2010’s Thistled Spring. They sounded beauteous, but naturally after hearing my two favorites in the first six minutes of the show, I panicked. WHAT NOW!? I shouldn’t have. It was kind of like Annie Hall when Alvy kisses Annie before their date starts (“So we’ll kiss now we’ll get it over with and then we’ll go eat. Okay? And we’ll digest our food better…”), because the anticipation for those songs subsided, allowing me to properly soak in the rest of the set.

I also studied the band as they played: the tattoo-sleeved cellist, the male fiddler with red trousers and a large fluffy (it seemed fluffy) mustache, the “hot brunette” female violinist with high-waisted jeans and cowboy boots, the multi-talented percussionist, and lead vocalist/guitarist/banjoist Justin Ringle looked a bit like Richie Cunningham. They’re a rag tag group, and the one thing that holds them together: musicianship. Alongside Ringle’s compelling vocals and finger-picking, the members of the strings team pluck and draw their instruments (including saws!!) with seriousness and determination like they are part of a major symphony orchestra, all while the percussionist can play guitar at his drum set, hit the kick drum, then tap on the cymbal with a free hand. They roll out each song like a music machine.

But that seriousness and professional, polished sound juxtaposes their effect: a down-home, pleasant, country vibe. I daresay HF is folksier than any other folk indie band out there (there are quite a few these days). Don’t song titles like “Thistled Spring,” “Starving Robins,” and (encore) “Curs in the Weeds” make you want to just swim in a brook, play on a tree swing, or run through a field of dandelions?? Their actual performances spur this as well, notably new songs “Fit Against the Country,” “Where I’ll Be,” and (my new favorite after Friday’s performance) “So Long.”

Horse Feathers recently released their latest album entitled Cynic’s New Year, but I felt the opposite of cynical leaving that show. Why do they seem so refreshing? Downright delightful? Their studio albums tend to gravitate to background music after three to four songs, the folksy tunes blend together into one long Americana session. This is not always a bad thing and it’s certainly okay when you show up to Black Cat for just that: a session. And watching it all play out on stage gives HF’s sound a certain energy and character you might miss when they’re playing on loop via Spotify; it is no longer background music when you are looking up at the lit-up musicians, swaying back and forth with the violin bows, tapping your heel with the steady kick drum, noticing the intricacies and differences in each song. If it sounds like I am validating live music in general rather than this band specifically, that’s because the douchey truth is a good live band makes you think about how good live music is. Minus side chatter (why were you there at 11:30-12:30 on a Friday night if you wanted to loudly talk to your neighbors during music? WHY?). Good thing the fiddling trumped that, for me anyway. So I’m off to pick some flowers.

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