This time, the improvisation occurred off the stage.
In a year filled with snowstorms and power outages, Lake Tahoe experienced one more round of that on a freezing May evening when bluegrass artist Sierra Hull was to perform. Just before the show was scheduled to begin in the Crown Room, Crystal Bay Casino’s general manager, staff and even ticket-holders carried 100 or so chairs into the smaller Red Room, where acoustics would be better for two-instrument show.
Hull, a 25-year-old mandolinist, and upright bass player Ethan Jodziewicz stepped onstage, and Hull announced, “This is the advantage of acoustic instruments. The show will go on!”
The duo captivated the audience with an eloquently virtuosic blend of bluegrass, jazz and classical music. The bartender was dexterous, too, managing to avoid clinking glasses and gently pouring ice, while thin curtains separated the Red Room from the casino.
“This is my first time at Crystal Bay and it might be might be my first time in a casino,” Hull said. “There’s a party out there and there’s a party in here.”
“If you can’t hear, come on up; don’t’ be shy,” Jodziewicz said. “You can even pull your chairs on the stage,” Hull added.
The duo took requests, played covers by Loretta Lynn, Curtis Mayfield and Johann Sebastian Bach, but mostly it performed songs from Hull’s 2016 Grammy-nominated record, “Weighted Mind,” a thematic album about the concerns and emotions of a pensive young woman reaching adulthood. For Hull, it was what was in her head at the age of 22.
“I’m 25 now,” she said. “Things are looking up.”
Produced by banjo superstar Bela Fleck, “Weighted Mind” was a new concept for Hull, whose previous records were made with a full ensemble. The new sound was stripped down with mostly just Hull’s voice and her and Jodziewicz’s strings.
“As I would drive to Bela Fleck’s house to talk about the album, the radio kept playing a song that went, ‘It’s All About That Bass,’” Hull laughed.
While a Grammy went to Meghan Trainor for her catchy tune about her bass, Hull’s sound will have a lasting resonance.
Bluegrass evolved in the 1970s with the New Grass Revival led by Sam Bush, Fleck and artists such as double bassist Edgar Meyer. Jodziewicz studied under Meyer and Hull was a preteen when she first collaborated with fiddler Alison Krauss.
Hull and Jodziewicz are the next generation of newgrass. Maybe call it new newgrass. On this night, it was Red Room grass, too brilliant to be toned down by a snowstorm and power outage.
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- Set list
May 6, 2017
Crystal Bay Casino
1 – Weighted Mind
2 – Stranded
3 – Compass
4 – Unknown instrumental (Johann Sebastian Bach)
5 – Unknown instrumental
6 – Queen of Hearts
7 – You Wanna to Give Me a Lift (Loretta Lynn)
8 – Wings of the Dawn
9 – The Hard Way
10 – Black River
11 – Best Buy
12 – Dancing with the Bugs
13 – Unknown instrumental
14 – Lullaby
15 – People Get Ready (Curtis Mayfield)
16 – Mad World
17 – I’ll Be Fine
18 – The In Between
Related story: Sierra Hull goes on the record with Tahoe Onstage.