Annaliva (missing Liz in this photo)
I missed Annalivia when MFS put them on about a year ago, so I was really looking forward to seeing them last night. Though Arlo Guthrie was playing the Colonial, and the Monadnock region was rich in other offerings, no one in Nelson had any thought of being elsewhere once the music began. Annalivia took the stage at eight to a full house, played two sets and then two encores. The crowd would not let them leave.
Opening with an uplifting guitar duet, Liz Simmons and Flynn Cohen strummed rhythmic and sweet. Soon, Liz’s clear voice joined in, followed by Brendan Carey Block and Emerald Rae on fiddle and Stuart Kenney on upright bass. The fluttering beat had a welcoming effect, readying the audience for a full night of music, emotion, and adventure.
The five-person group had an eclectic look: Brendan’s round face and untucked shirt, Emerald’s red lips and chic urban top, Liz’s earthy jewelry and dark risque dress, Flynn’s worn winter hat, and Stuart’s unassuming black shirt and bald bobbing head. Music brought these elements together blended and unified.
True to their appearance, Annalivia was at its best when juxtaposing different sounds and feelings together: the soft with the strong; the quick with the smooth. Their performance of Hang Man, an Appalachian song about a man sentenced to death after stealing a silver cup, was the perfect example of this. The two voices of Flynn’s guitar opened the number, followed by the two voices of Flynn and Liz. Flynn’s singing voice was high and heady while Liz’s was soft and throaty. Stuart snuck in with his supporting bass, adding a steady beat before anyone was aware, and Brendan and Emerald embellished the melody with their twin fiddles.
Brendan, a Cape Breton style fiddler, was featured toward the end of the first half. Throwing in the grace notes and flourishes the region is known for, he sounded like a fiddling legend. I imagined him descending the hills of Antrim playing an instrument of gold. Yump bada ba diddle, diddle yadum badum buuum. Stuart, head bobbing rhythmically as always, joined in with his bass. Starting slow and building up steam, Brendan switched tunes, sending out a mighty jolt. Emerald stood up and step danced, showing with her feet how dancing is a part of the music tradition. Flynn joined in on guitar, and by the end the music was so hot, he had to take off his overshirt and hat.
The cathartic moment of the concert came for me in the second half. In life, we are presented with moments of profound aloneness and undeniable connectedness. Watching this ensemble perform together, I could feel a wave of musical good feeling washing over the room. It seemed to connect us all, and pass beyond the walls of the Nelson Town Hall, through the air, out to surrounding towns, mountains, rivers, oceans… the whole world. The floor began to shake as audience members stomped their feet. With a flash in my head and a tingle in my chest, the phrase “I love the music we play together” formed in my mind. I thought of why I write, why I dance, why I listen to music, why I get up in the morning, and it was happening all around me.