REVIEW: Mountain Stage at Ohio University

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NPR’s Mountain Stage returned to Ohio University's Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium on Sunday, Oct. 14, just a little over a year since the radio show's last Athens visit.

The evening's musical acts included The Lost Brothers, Lucero, Doug Paisley, Sara Watkins and Rodney Crowell.

Now in its 29th year of production, it was apparent to all that Mountain Stage is a well-oiled machine.

Once the red "ON THE AIR" sign was lighted, host Larry Groce was on stage, singing the show's theme song. Likewise, audio engineers scrambled to rearrange microphones and amplifiers between acts while the Mountain Stage Band played covers of well-known songs.

Although opening act The Lost Brothers (Oisin Leech and Mark McCausland) are not actually siblings, both hail from Ireland and have been writing and performing music together for the better part of a decade.

The duo’s music draws heavily on their Irish roots, with the sound, themes and mood of traditional Irish ballads.

The group, fresh from a visit to Los Angeles, made a point to mention the wonderful autumn weather in Ohio.

"I’m gonna bring my mum home a bottle of air," said Oisin.

The duo ended their set with an epic ballad, topped off with a flurry of quick-strummed chords, which elicited a standing ovation from some audience members.

Up next was the Memphis, Tenn., country-rock group Lucero, decked out in cut-off t-shirts, trucker hats and torn-up jeans.

The music of Bruce Springsteen seems to have had a large impact on Lucero, with the band's horn/keyboard/guitar-driven sound resembling that of the E. Street Band, and occasionally, Jerry Lee Lewis.

Front man Ben Nichols cracked jokes in-between songs as he tuned his guitar, while female fans called out "We love you, Ben!"

Folk musician Doug Paisley, a last-minute addition to Sunday's Mountain Stage bill, was also warmly received by the audience.

Standing alone on stage, equipped only with his acoustic guitar, the Toronto-based singer opened with a song that drew directly from traditional American folk singers such as Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie.

However, after his first song, he sounded a bit more like early 1960s Dylan, with finger-picked melodies and a cavalier attitude about lyrics that rhyme.

Sara Watkins followed with an electrifying performance. Though Watkins has had a very successful career at her young age, working with the likes of the Decemberists, Grant-Lee Phillips, John Mayer and Jerry Douglas, she is perhaps best-known as a member of the bluegrass group Nickel Creek.

Her brother (and fellow Nickel Creek member) Sean Watkins accompanied her on stage, playing a beautiful fingerpicked acoustic guitar, occasionally taking the lead on some songs.

On spirited numbers, Watkins was animated, waving her bow over her head and stomping her foot as she sang. However, she also performed several low-key tunes, all of which were from her latest release, Sun Midnight Sun.

Rodney Crowell closed out the night performing some of his older songs, as well as new material from his recent album, KIN: Songs by Rodney Crowell and Mary Karr.

Crowell introduced most songs with a brief story about how they were written.

For instance, while introducing "Ridin' The Storm Out," he recalled a family visit to New York City in the dead of winter. While there, he tried to give his coat to a homeless man, a gesture he admitted was intended to impress his daughter. The man replied, "No thank you sir, my reality is consequence to the choices I’ve made."

Crowell’s performance was low-key, yet brilliant, consisting mostly of slow pieces accompanied by descriptive, no-nonsense lyrics.

"Doesn’t this guy ever play any fast songs?" Crowell said, poking fun at himeself. As the crowd laughed, he closed his set with a quick number, leaving on an upbeat note.

After Crowell's set, all of the performers reassembled on stage to perform a Townes Van Zandt song with Groce playing conductor.

As the final song received a standing ovation from the crowd, many in the audience were left to wonder how three hours could pass so quickly.

Sunday's show is expected to be broadcast in November. Mountain Stage is heard each Saturday at 8 p.m. on WOUB-FM.