The Wood Brothers with Shovels & Rope
The Rooftop at Pier 17 – NYC – June 9, 2023
Review & Photos – Rebecca Wolf
The NYC skies were an eerie shade of golden orange on Wednesday June 7th as the air was thick with the smoke from Canadian wildfires. People were warned to stay indoors due to the dangerous air quality and various outdoor activities were canceled across the city and neighboring states. While The Wood Brothers’ concert at The Rooftop at Pier 17 was two days away, I wondered if the show would be able to go on. Would being several stories atop a building, with panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline and the expansive Brooklyn Bridge still be possible or safe? Over the next two days, the haze lifted and the air quality improved. However, a looming 40% chance of rain threatened to put a damper on the performance. But, New Yorkers are a tough, brave crowd. They are not ones who easily shy away from the elements. So, it was no surprise that while a few raindrops fell just prior to the doors opening at Pier 17, that did nothing to keep fans away from The Wood Brothers’ performance that evening.
With the crowd still filtering in and grey skies above, the evening’s opening act, Shovels & Rope, hit the stage. While this Americana/folk/roots rock duo, hailing from South Carolina, was unfamiliar to me, the audience cheers made it abundantly clear that this musical duo has an enthusiastic fan following. Shovels & Rope is a comprised of husband and wife team Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst. The duo joined forces in 2008, after starting out as individual performers and have since released six studio albums, the most recent, Manticore, in 2022. With Trent on lead and backing vocals, harmonica, guitar, drums, keyboard and percussion and Hearst on lead and backing vocals, guitar, drums, keyboard and percussion, the pair sang with rich, warm, powerful harmonies. The pair’s full-bodied instrumental and vocal sound belied the size of their band. While both band members performed with passionate energy throughout the 45-minute set, Hearst’s emotional intensity was observable by her ever-changing facial expressions. It’s always a joyful surprise to discover “new” artists….musicians you never previously encountered and now you are enthused to delve into. Having crossed paths by chance with Shovels & Ropes atop Pier 17, I will surely be on the lookout for their return.
As Shovels & Rope departed the stage the sun began to set and the rooftop crowd continued to amass. Unfortunately, the darkening sky was not merely due to the hour of the evening but the cloud cover suspended over NYC. While the rain held off during the opening act, with a lull in the music the raindrops began, sending fans scampering inside Pier 17, under awnings and umbrellaed tables and donning ponchos (for those who came prepared.) Luckily, Mother Nature seemingly had other plans that evening and departed the city after 30 minutes of light rain. As the air cleared a sea of fans reemerged across the expansive rooftop, and with loud cheers welcoming the members of The Wood Brothers onstage, no one’s enthusiasm appeared dampened by the weather.
The band opened with “Worst Pain of All” from their recently released album, Heart is the Hero. Additional songs from the new album included “Far From Alone” and “Rollin’ On.” While the album was released a mere two months ago, these new numbers were met with an abundance of fan enthusiasm, a beautiful indication of the openness and appreciation for the band’s new music. There wasn’t a song that didn’t have fans fully engaged, enthused, rocking to the beat and singing along. The hour and forty minute performance additionally included “Alabaster” and “Little Bit Sweet,” from 2020’s Kingdom in my Mind, “Happiness Jones,” from 2018’s One Drop of Truth, “The Muse” and “I Got Loaded” (Little Bob & the Lollipops cover) from 2015’s The Muse and “Yer So Bad,” a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers cover, performed with Shovels & Rope.Whether a Wood Brothers song is energetic and upbeat, or melancholy and soulful, Oliver Wood’s voice can never be mistaken due to its unique, bluesy, twangy, impassioned tone. Watching Oliver perform, the expressions on his face, eyes closed and fingers moving deftly along the guitar strings, is like viewing soulfulness personified. Bassist Chris Wood is the perfect counterpart to brother Oliver, demonstrating spirited dance moves with his upright bass partner, while passionately, rhythmically and swiftly plucking the strings and singing beautiful harmonies. When not effusively keeping beat on the drum kit, Jano Rix’s versatile musical skills are showcased center-stage while joining the brothers to perform on the melodica, drum on the guitar, and add to the vocal harmonies. The evening ended with fan-favorite, “Luckiest Man,” from 2005’s Ways Not to Lose, which had every fan passionately singing along in glorious unison.
Earlier in the week smoke had filled the NYC skies, wreaking havoc on health and daily activities. By the end of the week rain threatened to but a damper on some much needed outdoor musical relief. However, NY fans are not ones to give up. On Friday evening they congregated on The Rooftop of Pier 17 and were rewarded with a beautiful darkened night sky, a panoramic view of NYC skyscrapers ablaze in shining lights, and the twinkling Brooklyn Bridge, backdrop for an incredible, spirited, soulful performance by The Wood Brothers. Yes, that evening we were all pretty lucky…. “What you don’t know is you are the luckiest man.”