Americana is a flexible term. It has been stretched in recent years to near breaking point as it has struggled to embrace an ever wider spectrum of musical styles wanting to promote itself with the currently trendy ‘Americana’ tag but its very core is undoubtedly occupied by acoustic musicians playing traditional instruments and singing songs crafted around everyday life. Cue banjo, fiddle and guitar; throw in an impressive full bushy beard, empty the traditional songbook from the last 150 years and The Corn Potato String Band score something of an Americana bull’s-eye.
The small Green Note stage was the first of fourteen dates for the band on their two-week ‘Poppin & Mashin’ UK summer tour. The talented trio of Aaron Jonah Lewis (aka the beard), Lindsay McCaw, and Ben Belcher drew a sold-out crowd to the intimate Camden venue and immediately set about showcasing their considerable skills to an enthusiastic audience. And there was a lot to showcase since the performance CVs of all three musicians are impressive – multi-instrumentalists, champion fiddle players, theatre and puppet skills, flatfoot dancing, expert banjo pickers – and the expectant crowd was treated to all of those talents over the course of a memorable evening.
The opening song of the first set encouraged “everybody to get happy” as Aaron and Lindsay shared vocals on a rousing version of ‘Chesapeake Bay’. The tone had been established and the band set about raiding a rich traditional songbook that extended back more than a century. ‘The Trombone Slide’, a fine instrumental tune, quickly highlighted the skills on offer as fiddles were teased into mimicking the slide trombone sound while McCaw’s fine percussive flatfoot dancing was greeted with eager applause as a succession of foot-tapping tunes quickly followed. ‘The Home Brew Rag’, the double banjo showcase ‘The Banshee’, a stirring version of ‘I Hope That I Get Old Before I Die’ and ‘The Angels Waltz’ being amongst the highlights. The first set concluded with ‘The Russian Rag,’ an instrumental that saw Lewis and McCaw trading fiddle parts and highlighted Belcher’s finger-picked banjo playing talent.
The second half was eagerly awaited and proved no less entertaining as McCaw cranked a moving theatre storyboard to the accompaniment of double banjos and the trio blazed through a triple fiddle tune ‘Going Across The Sea’. More flatfoot dancing and a succession of polka and waltz tunes followed until the encore conclusion of a Farr Brothers tune, ‘The Oom Pah Rag’ was met with rapturous applause.
It had been good to get back to the roots of Americana, taken there by the authentic sound of The Corn Potato String Band who are the self-proclaimed ‘Ears and Eyes of America’. After a triumphant evening at The Green Note they can also proclaim themselves to be ‘The Heart and Soul of Americana’. Currently on tour in the UK until 3rd September, catch them if you can and reconnect your own heart to the soul of Americana.