Richie & Rosie

1 November, Urban Winery, Ahuriri.

Listening is too often an under-refined practice in our social exchanges these days, so to feel received in it, in any given moment is a treat indeed. Once again, the etiquette of the Sitting Room Sessions delivered an energised reciprocal experience to performers and audience alike.

The stunning Richie & Rosie (Richie Stearns and Rosie Newton) – traditional music/blue grass performers from Ithaca, NY State – performed in the newly opened Urban Winery whilst on tour through New Zealand. This beautiful, contemporary, and acoustically satisfying space, a perfect musical venue for them.

We swooned from Rosie’s first flurry of double-bowed ardour, setting pace with Richie’s finger-fervour banjo and guitar grooving. This is Old-Time, Appalachian-styled music at its finest, and was nothing short of super cool.

There were many pleasures worthy of note; an elegant technical mastery of their own instruments leaving wide room to explore tones and tunes, exposing space and emotion that was unavoidably affecting for us listening. It is no secret that they have been playing together for years. In many ways it felt like we were watching a synergy of two people who had grown into their own age together, resonating many musically intimate moments with solid surety and kicking rhythm. In sublime curves their vocal harmonies coalesced to one. Rosie’s voice clear and strong and Richie’s quiet, certain. Both perfect at every pitch, each astonishing and living naturally in it all.

At the point where we all sang with them, it’s a quiet, home-felt union. We want to side-step into the essence of story-telling in this musical form, it tracks us to our core. The songs are born from the lives of people. Every song has its story, from the traditional square dance quick pace, of waters flooding, to the soon to be dead man’s own hanging, we are placed into an American landscape. We are down deep mining with ‘Veins of Coal’, a soulful mourning of blood and bone, the cost of such labours. And we are risen bright with fused Appalachian Raga in ‘Last train to Rajasthan’. Nothing is lost to the past here, simply contemporary translations of bygone tenures, after all, history builds our own cells. I recall my own stories of these large landscapes: mid-western ice-storms bringing down trees; endless oak tree autumns; seeing the Mississippi for the first time. This music brings its own grit.

In fortuitous complement, the photography of Richard Brimer, installed on the surrounding walls, adds layers of story to the performance – the New Zealand landscape: the lone house, the tough workshop, guys with no shirts, and the solitary sitter in her white room all eluding a telling. Let’s just say, a lot of head bobbing, wine, foot-tapping surged throughout the performance and we all remarkably remained seated, reserving our heartfelt appreciation for a thunderous, elated applause and whooping – leaving no doubt about how we all felt.

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