I had the opportunity and the pleasure to make some really incredible music with some of my friends last night. The occasion? Yesterday marked the first day of rehearsals for the upcoming Groundhog Day Benefit Concert featuring The Opposite of a Train, and if the rehearsal yesterday is any indication, the show tomorrow is going to be one of Charleston’s best in 2010.
The members of The Opposite of a Train – Bill Carson, Nathan Koci and Ron Wiltrout – have assembled an all-star cast of local talent to raise money in support of the programming for the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston. The group has expanded its usual trio format for this gig to include Charlton Singleton on trumpet, Kevin Hamilton on bass, Clint Fore on tuba, and yours truly on tenor saxophone. The band will be augmented throughout tomorrow evening by guest vocalists Cary Ann Hearst, Michael Trent, Linsday Holler, Stephanie Underhill, and Joel Hamilton.
I asked both Ron and Bill about how this expanded version of The Opposite of a Train relates to the original trio. Ron shares with me,
We needed the extra instruments to fill out some of the instrumental parts that were overdubbed on the album. Rather than try to hire three more Nathan Kocis, we got trumpet, sax, and tuba so the texture would be a little more traditional and a lot more versatile. The bass seemed like a good idea for the songs with singers. The singers were added so that the show could be half instrumentals and half great songs which is something that the members of The Opposite of a Train have always been into. We all play music with and without words, and Bill wanted a show this big to be an opportunity to do both.
When we started out as a trio, we decided to mark a few parameters for the sake of making a cohesive record; among them were that we would play all the parts and we’d stick to instrumental tunes. Of course, we also spend a lot of time playing music together in different groups and contexts, so diverging from those guidelines was never much of a stretch.
We brought on a few horn players for a concert last year in order to recreate some of the multitracking we did on the record and it seemed a natural extension of the trio. Initially, it was Mark Sloan (Halsey Director & Senior Curator) who suggested we invite local singers to perform with us. The thing is, all of our guest musicians are naturally musical people who are eager to make the most of new creative situations, so they sort of fit with our mood. I think of this as the widescreen version of the band.
Expanding on how this diverse group was brought together, Carson says,
We’re exceptionally fortunate to have friends in diverse areas of the music community. We brainstormed about what kind of ensemble we’d like to have for a bigger concert and ended up talking about who we would most like to work with just as much as what instruments to include. We drafted a list of folks to ask and everyone said yes. I reckon we’re just lucky.
The line-up was kind of a no-brainer consisting of a combination of friends and collaborators who all happen to be great players. We wanted certain instruments, had some options for who would play them, and chose the ones we wanted to work with.
Tuesday’s concert will feature an extraordinary range of music including compositions from The Opposite of a Train’s self-titled CD release, original songs by guest vocalists Michael Trent, Cary Ann Hearst, Lindsay Holler, Joel Hamilton, and cover tunes by Randy Newman, Laurie Anderson, The Flaming Lips, and Led Zeppelin.
The vocal arrangements on the program feature treatments of alternative pop/rock, performance art, hymns, dirty blues, funky lamf, and chamber music. Described as “experimental chamber folk music,” the instrumentals penned by Wiltrout, Koci, and Carson are a seemingly schizophrenic blend of waltzs, marchs, post-rock, Army band chorales, zany circus music, jazz, and free improvisation.
Carson, the event’s Musical Director, says “there will be some instrumental Opposite of a Train material, some things out of the American songbook, some original songs, and some surprises.” I can tell you personally that if you miss the days of hopscotch, you are gonna flip when you witness one of those surprise twisty-twists.
The Opposite of a Train heads out of Charleston on Wednesday for an 8-day East Coast tour. When asked about how the upcoming tour will compare to the all-star Charleston concert, Ron says,
The tour will be only the three of us playing only instrumental music we have written for each other to play. We’ll play in some art galleries, cafes, a rock club or two, and the Kennedy Center Millenium Stage. Each night will be different and we’ll rely on our knowledge of the music and our ability to adapt to make each night different and fun.
The Groundhog Day Benefit Concert will take place at 8pm tomorrow, Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at Memminger Auditorium, 56 Beaufain Street.
Pre-sale tickets will be available for purchase from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Mon. – Sat. at the Halsey Institute, 161 Calhoun Street or 52.5 Records, located at 561 King Street. $10 for HICA Members & Students. $20 for Non-Members.
Here is the audio clip of “STP Loaner” by Ron Wiltrout.
Photos on Flickr here.
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