Flawless music recreated expertly and joyfully
By Julie Raefield for Ashland.news
The stage is set for 29 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSNY) songs, using nine guitars, eight mics, four keyboards, two bass guitars, one rockin’ set of drums and a haunting pedal steel guitar. The line-up is impressive, but it’s the vocals that will knock your socks off and prompt you to want to see a second show of Camelot Theater’s brand new “Spotlight on CSN&Y.”
Three years in the making, this note-perfect, narrated musical journey of the quintessential folk-rock band of the ’70s, soaringly revives the magic of these four master musicians and their heavenly, complex three- and four-part harmonies that wove together haunting melodies between sailing guitar riffs. Like the original musical ensemble, Camelot Director Shawn Ramagos has reached heavenly heights with this excellent production.
Five seasoned local musicians with expert musical skills — Will Bartell, Dave Bernard, Mike Dadaos, Mike Gardiner and Ken Kigel — bring their deep knowledge of the band’s history to the stage with surprising stories, intimate details and wry wit that brings an insider’s view of this era-defining musical quartet that came together in spite of some notoriously cantankerous individual relationships.
With subtle yet effective small changes in costumes and hats, the audience is transported to pivotal musical moments in the band’s history and their individual solo careers. Musically, Bartell, Bernard, Gardiner and Kigel each play an impressive, constantly changing carousel of instruments, firmly held together by drummer Dadaos’ beats that land squarely true.
But again, it is the harmonies, executed with precision and near-perfection, that give listeners a sweet taste of youth and recreated memories of live CSN&Y performances that some might have been lucky enough to hear in person. Yes, they are that good. And, if you have seen band mates performing locally together as the “East Main Band,” you will agree that years of practice together have added to the brilliance of this production.
Bernard anchors the team with strong, luscious lead vocals (a la Stephen Stills) on many tunes that blend effortlessly with his bandmates’ (Bartell, Kigel and Gardiner) perfectly replicated interweaving vocal lines. Bernard shines forth with joy at bringing his (surely) favorite songs to life once again as he radiates musical bliss.
Bartell brings out some sweet, immeasurably high notes on some Neil Young solo hits with appropriate hat, sideburns and plaid shirt to peg the imagery, topped off by classic, slippery and memorable pedal steel solos on “Teach Your Children” and “Heart of Gold.” His 12-string Rickenbacker solos (and duets with Bernard’s 12-string Rickenbacker) bring authenticity to songs known for that filled-out electric sound.
Kigel’s violin sails beautifully above “Wasted on the Way,” bested only by his lead guitar solos and rollin’ bass guitar in many other tunes. Often carrying some of the more obscure harmonies, Kigel’s years as a trained orchestral violinist and former orchestra instructor in Ashland schools, surely enabled his mastery. Plus, he can easily pass for David Crosby’s brother with his aptly donned suede vest.
Gardiner adds some strong, bluesy harmonica (harp, for those in the know), sweet vocal solos and pitch-perfect high and middle vocal lines, plus keyboards and percussion throughout the night. His vocal parts on every tune, joined by his bandmates, ring like crystal.
Dadao’s drumming keeps everything moving with that needed jump on the beat that pumps energy, spirit and push into each tune. Dadao, like every performer on stage, shares in the storytelling that helps thread the needle of the band’s history in between songs.
The extensive song list will surely please any fan, going deep into the group’s catalogue and their individual solo careers. It is both ambitious and, happily, victorious in execution. Rather than giving it all away, let these additional titles tantalize: “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Marrakesh Express,” “Just a Song Before I Go” and “Ohio.”
The lighting design and simple set are nicely supportive of the musicians and the audio design is a successful, herculean effort by Jonathan Pratt — managing to keep instruments balanced against fine, nuanced harmonies that could easily be drowned out. The only tiny callout is a desire for a bit more volume to enjoy it even further.
Finally, for those diehard CSN&Y fans, be sure to come ready to raise your hand on some CSN&Y trivia that could secure you some swag.
Stealing from “Love the One You’re With,” one of the night’s sparkling tunes, “Turn your heartache, right into joy!” and get on over to see this fantastic production running through April 10, at 101 Talent Av., Talent. Tickets are $20-$38 for shows at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Call the box office at 541-535-5250 or go online to camelottheatre.org.
Oh, and don’t forget to bring your lighters — you’ll want to use them.
Rogue Valley resident and freelance writer Julie Raefield has extensive experience as a journalist and communications professional. Email her at RaefieldJulie@gmail.com.