The Collaborative in Warren is quickly becoming one of my favorite non-traditional music venues to see local music. It’s so appealing; the small size, the bucket of beer, the money jar being passed around. You can’t beat a locale that connects people to music and to each other with zero pretension and all the nice vibes. On Friday night, all the folk fans that could fit packed the Collaborative to witness some of the best local music our state of evergrowing talent has to offer.
Up first was CJ Opperthauser playing under the moniker Sweet Cousin Maldehyde. “She’s a Scooby Doo character– a little old lady that disappears into a haunted house and doesn’t talk.” Opperthauser played a too-brief set of seven songs including “DTW,” “Obsidian,” “Heard Him Talk” and a powerful cover of Mississippi John Hurt’s “Make Me a Pallet on the Floor,” played in the same vein as Gillian Welch but with a bluesy, growling tonality all his own.
Opperthauser is fairly new to our scene as he moved from Michigan to Rhode Island in 2014. He released a dynamic LP this past August titled The Ghost of Captain Cutler, which is recommended listening to anyone who likes sad songs played well. Dynamic fingerstyle guitar and gritty (but often pretty) vocals wrought with nerves and loneliness set the album’s tone while the live show captures the music’s heart.
Opperthauser’s no-holds-barred performance style was raw and unpolished, requiring nothing more to command the stage than an acoustic guitar of which he strummed with an impressive percussive back beat that had the crowd tapping and swaying in their seats. The highlight was a song titled “Moonshine,” which resonated so deeply due to its unabashed honesty and introspection about insecurity and anxiety. Toward an audience who was largely unfamiliar with his music, Opperthauser, in all his vulnerability, was humble, gracious and a total class act. We hope to see more of him soon!
The Vox Hunters closed the Collaborative by doing what they do best: pretty much everything. It’s hard to capture all that happened inside their set of ten songs (or tunes) however my feelings would be best expressed in saying this: If you love traditional folk music, Rhode Island, and are unfamiliar with the Vox Hunters — for shame. In a world of music where the folk lines are blurry, Armand Aromin and Benedict Gagliardi keep the living tradition of folk alive in its pure, intended form.
The talented duo routinely researches old songs and poems of Rhode Island’s history and sets them to music supported by tenor guitars, accordions, ukuleles, harmonicas, fiddles and anything else they happen to pick up. The Vox Hunters tell stories of town histories and its people. Before playing “Harris is King of Them All,” Aromin introduced the song by saying, “This is a broadside from the 1880s. It’s a song about a dude named Harris who believed the quality of his shoes would bring world peace.” Did Harris change the world? Probably not. But his historical importance or failed attempts at world peace don’t really matter. In folk tradition, every story is important to tell and The Vox Hunters tell them with so much emotion and enthusiasm that inside that tiny art gallery next to a bathroom and a figurine of Jimmy Hart, you felt instantly connected to Harris and his amazing shoes.
The award-winning duo Atwater Donnelly joined them for “Block Island Song,” which supplied all the right elements for a perfect folk moment: beautiful harmonies, an Appalachian dulcimer and folk dancing on a piece of wood. It’s easy to tell how much Aromin and Gagliardi love the music they’ve curated and how much their music means to listeners. Theirs is an audience who showed up two hours before they even picked up an instrument, who revel in learning choruses for sing-alongs, appreciate impromptu ukulele lessons and are highly knowledgeable about Dorr’s Rebellion. Friday’s show came at the right time: the unofficial start of summer when we get to appreciate Rhode Island at its peak. Thanks, Vox Hunters. Folk on.