Tuesday, January 18th, Robert Plant and the Band of Joy played to a near-capacity crowd at Asheville’s Thomas-Wolfe Auditorium. Kicking off an extensive North American tour, which is currently scheduled to conclude in June at The Telluride bluegrass Festival in Colorado. The tour includes performances on the Late Show with David Letterman on CBS February 4th, as well as the Wanee Music Festival, and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, both in April.
The springtime winds of Florida provided a much-needed relief from the snow-ridden mountains of Western North Carolina- this for which I am grateful; and although fatigue had set in as a result of the 1,800-mile trek, I was absolutely determined not to miss Robert Plant and the Band of Joy’s show. I connected with a ticket fairly easily, and nestled myself amoungst the orchestra left-seated fellow Ashevillians long about the sixth row.
The Band of Joy sports an all-star ensemble including Patty Griffin on back-up vocals. On electric guitar, baritone, 6-string bass, and mandoguitar is co-producer Buddy Miller, who previously appeared on the wildly successful album Raising Sand with Plant and Alison Krauss in 2007. Swannanoa Gathering attendee and two-time Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion favorite Darrell Scott plays acoustic guitar, mandolin, octave mandolin, banjo, accordion, pedal steel and lap steel guitar in the group. Byron House takes an upright bass, and Marco Giovino provides drums and percussion.
When the group took the stage, the first thing I noticed was Mr. Plant’s attire. He was dressed in worn blue jeans, and a simple black t-shirt. An ear-to-ear smile graced my road-weary face as I pondered a truly comforting thought: “Now here’s a man (the man if you will), arguably the greatest rock and roll star of all time- a man who could most likely possess any material possession imaginable, with an appearance genuinely humble.”
The first introduction, of Buddy Miller, began with- “The wheel rolls on…so here we have 21st century, and here we have on this stage The Band of Joy, which is a many-headed beast, a beautiful explosion of idea and gift, and my first introduction tonight, really requires absolutely no introduction, but please give a warm return welcome to Asheville to the Great Mr. Buddy Miller.” The Band then covered “Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go” (written by Miranda Lambert) with Robert taking the harp.
Plant then introduces Patty Griffin…“Once upon a time from the frosty state of Maine, we bring you the new queen of Austin, Texas– a rockabilly queen…please put your hands together for the great Patty Griffin.” The band then backs her up on Griffin’s original “Move Up,” a song written to a Traditional accompaniment.
Having received the next introduction- “On mandolin, pedal steel guitar, and everything else, the great voice…Mr. Darrell Scott,” The Band of Joy melodically harmonized into “A Satisfied Mind,” an absolutely gorgeous song written by Joe “Red” Hayes and Jack Rhodes, originally recorded on Ella Fitzgerald’s The First Lady of Spring (Decca) in 1955.
Highlights from the evening included, of course, the Band of Joy’s renditions of long time appraised Led Zeppelin classics including the tear-pulling “Tangerine” (III), “Ramble On” (II), “Houses of the Holy” (Houses of the Holy), “Gallow’s Pole” (III), and “Rock and Roll” (IV)
The rest of the set was comprised of a cover of a gospel medley including “12 Gates To The City,” “Wade In The Water,” and “In My Time Of Dyin’.” Barbara Lynn’s recording of “You Can’t Buy My Love,” “Angel Dance-” from the new album and wildly popular on Asheville radio’s 98.1 FM The River, “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down,” “Harm’s Swift Way,” “Monkey,” and the lovely Patty Griffin taking the vocals with Plant on Raising Sand’s “Please Read the Letter.”
The evening was concluded with a heartfelt cover of “And We Bid You Goodnight,” a song The Grateful Dead often used to close their sets: a Traditional written by Sarah Doudbey and Ira David Sankey. As I made my way back to my car parked just across Haywood at The Basilica of St. Lawrence, I felt as if I had been “walking in Jerusalem just like John, goodnight…goodnight…goodnight.”