If you were one of the lucky few who caught Melissa Reaves’ solo performance at Boondocks Friday night, you came away with the conviction that you had witnessed a “happening,” maybe even the inauguration of a “scene.”
And, if you gazed around the room at the rest of the audience as Reaves tore the house down, you saw they were thinking the same thing you were: “I can’t believe this is West Jefferson!”
And: “That girl can sing!”
And: “Who will they get in here to follow this?”
Those who were there talked about it after and agreed there was a palpable sense that Friday night had just been born again before their eyes, and they were the only ones who knew about it.
Reaves felt it, too. “It was a great turnout,” she said, “a gracious and sweet audience.”
No coffee-shop folk singer, Reaves stood in a small corner of Boondocks’ new taproom and owned that gracious, sweet audience her with prodigious voice, percussive guitar work and a small PA system.
The PA may be optional. Her voice delivers with such force and volume at all registers that she can be heard, even when she steps back from the mic.
Reaves’ singing invites inevitable comparison with Janis Joplin, which she gets a lot.
“At the end of the day, it’s a great compliment,” she said, and she does short crowd-pleaser sets of Joplin tunes — tributes in style, but definitely made her own.
Joplin doesn’t top her list of influences, though. Here, Reaves passes the diverse schools of music test, which marks her as a scholar of her craft, citing Bjork, Jeff Buckley and gospel singer Jennifer Holiday, among others.
The southern black gospel influence is most evident in Reaves’ phrasing; she plays her voice like an instrument, with total control and total abandon, never faking it for moment.
Reaves accompanies herself on an acoustic-electric guitar with a thumping rhythmic style that responds to her vocal movements like a Cummins diesel engine to a skilled mechanic; now throbbing at idle; now chugging along in first gear; now wound-up and belching smoke.
A former resident of West Jefferson, she currently lives in Boone six months of the year, and built a small Ashe County following last year after a couple memorable performances at the New River Winery.
Performing over 200 shows per year, Reaves spends most of her time touring with her eclectic solo show, as well as her band, at venues as diverse as Lilith Fair, Austin City Limits Music Festival, Seattle’s Bumbershoot and Hempfest, NYC’s Merce Cunningham Studio and The American Dance Festival.
Reaves brought national-market talent to South Jefferson Avenue Friday, and some are pretty happy about it.
Ashe County is home to a growing population of refugees from metropolitan America, folks who took the geographical cure for post-modern malaise and ran screaming away from suburban Everyplace, U.S.A.. While we don’t miss the two-hour commutes, soul-killing cubicle jobs or miles of strip malls with hectares of parking lots, we do miss having a place to get a pint of beer, some good pub food and catch a good live act on a Friday night.
And we’d rather not drive to Boone to get it.
When 50-odd patrons come out for dinner, drinks and show, and collectively realize they can’t believe they’re having a great time in their own neighborhood, a corner has been turned. Boondocks and other local venues should take notice: booking consummate, adventurous performers like Reaves raises the bar on local entertainment, and makes a Friday night almost feel like the weekend.