Concert Review: Doug Mains & The City Folk 1/16/13


One of the fringe benefits of being traveling musicians is the opportunity to escape to more desirable climates as the seasons change. Such was the inspiration behind the travels of Doug Mains & The City Folk, who rolled into Valparaiso, Indiana January 16th for the first of twenty-four shows on a tour aptly named “South For Winter ’13.” Though not far enough away from their native Michigan to experience fun in the sun just yet, they have gigs that will soon take them to warmer places as Nashville, TN, Athens, GA and Durham, NC.

Touring for the first time since the departure of longtime violinist Kelly Pond, Cornucopia Coffee Company played host to a trio consisting of Doug Mains (vocals/acoustic guitars), Josh Michels (cello/accordion) and Rob Germeroth (percussion). Noticeably absent was upright bassist/vocalist Kim Wren for reasons unknown to this author. While the presence of Pond and Wren would have provided a warmer, fuller sound, the three men managed to hold their own with what can best be described as low-key, though high energy, folk music. With authoritative, yet soothing vocals reminiscent of an Irish gentleman more than twice his age, the twenty-five year old Mains delivered lamentations about the human condition, but not without expressing faith and hope for brighter outcomes. In “Stones Awakening,” Mains sang, “Words over head drop like bricks to the earth / Shaking the ground, my feet and my worth” before declaring, “But where we find brokenness, we’re sure to find grace / And grace leads us onward to seat with the saints / Grace leads us onward to seat with the saints.” Similar to many of the evening’s offerings, the song started out quietly, slowly gaining momentum before a heartfelt plea of “Oh, rejoice not over me, Oh, my enemy” was belted out as the cello, drums and acoustic guitar were played ever more fervently. Like Sufjan Stevens before him, Mains also sang of Detroit’s transformation from bustling metropolis to city of ruins in “Broken Windows:” “Hate starts with ignorance / And ignorance is bliss / If you are happy with the dangers inside of you / If you let it grow / Then the things you’d otherwise know / Will be the very things that come to destroy you.” It was evident by his carefully-crafted words that Mains has been touched by the plight of the Motor City and longs to see it prosper once again. The same conviction could be found in the other half-dozen or so songs the band performed as well.

Mains’ understated vocal approach and soft guitar strumming were eloquently complimented by Michels’ effortless transitions from cello to accordion-often within the same song-and Germeroth’s solid drumming. No musician overshadowed the other and their passionate craftsmanship was the perfect backdrop for Mains’ gift of insightful, well-penned lyrics. On a personal note, I find my mind drifting toward thoughts of loved ones when my soul is stirred by a musical performance. That evening was one of those occasions.

Even though winter had shown its true self in the form of frigid temperatures, it was obvious by the audience’s reaction that Doug Mains & The City Folk had warmed their hearts, highlighted by an impromptu singing of “Happy Birthday” to the bandleader/birthday boy. Here’s to hoping the weather reciprocates and provides the balmy temperatures they are seeking.

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