The Civic Theatre in Bedford is somewhat dated, perhaps best emulating a church hall stuck in a pre-twentieth century time warp. Given that tonight’s feast is the bluegrass starlet Sarah Jarosz, a genre which to the majority of twenty-somethings I know is equally lost amid the synths of the modern age, it could be telling. For Jarosz however the fact that the clock states 11.20 throughout the entirety of the show, simply marks her timeless charm and ability to rekindle the genre with seemingly effortless grace.
Florence Welch got dubbed as’ lungs’ a few years back but compared to Jarosz, Welch is the equivalent of a wet weekend in Bognor. She is not only able to hit every note with force, but also with control and passion, utilising every part of her range. This combined with an ability to work her guitar/mandolin/banjo with more gusto than Lonnie in Deliverance, fuses in with Nathaniel Smith on cello and Alex Hargreaves on fiddle to create a set that is brimming with intricate melodies.
Whilst the opener Tell Me True delves straight in at the more traditional bluegrass end of the spectrum, Runaway has a more atmospheric vibe, justifying why this 20 year old has already notched up a collection of nominations for various awards. With covers of Dylan’s Ring Them Bells and Waits’ Come On Up To The House, Jarosz confirms that not only is she able to write evocative songs, but she’s also a dab hand at adapting classics and giving them a spin that leaves the originals seeming almost flat.
Despite the monitor blowing mid way through Come Around the band captivate the crowd. She works through Annabelle Lee, Floating In The Balance and My Muse from new album Follow Me Down and Broussard’s Lament from its predecessor Song Up In Her Head, combining the personal anecdotes with songs about Hurricane Katrina and the reworking of classic poetry.
Not set to end it there, she includes a selection of instrumentals including the foot-tapping Old Smitty. It’s during this number that there should be time to stop marveling over Jarosz’s voice and focus on her abilities with an octave mandolin. Unfortunately this doesn’t come to pass, since all three musicians work their instruments into such frenzy, the end result is simply a sea of flailing arms leaving me undecided as to where to focus my attention.
It’s somewhat paradoxical that it should be amid the tired decor of the Civic Theatre, a venue set to close, that this youthful trio pack vim and vigour into their set. Whilst Jarosz would have been sublime solo (and she undeniably is during Gypsy), the amalgamation of tonight’s line up is no less than breathtaking.