I first saw Coyote Run at MarsCon in Williamsburg, Virginia about five years ago; that one performance took me from lukewarm interest in Celtic music to a deep appreciation of what can be achieved with a lineup of bagpipes, fiddles, and drums (not to mention an array of other instruments). Since that first show, I’ve watched the band lineup change, the performance style mature, the playing improve immeasurably, and the range and depth of their compositions skyrocket.
Recently, Coyote Run proved that they can still surprise me, and went in a direction I’d never anticipated: acoustic. Yes, they shed all the high-volume rock-theatre effects and went for a stripped-down concert in an intimate local venue, the Williamsburg Library Theater. Of course I had to go. We even showed up early enough to get front row center seats.
Right on time, the lights went out, and everyone stared at the empty stage, waiting. A moment later, voices came from the back of the theater, singing in marvelous a capella harmony; band members David Doersch, Doug Bischoff, Michael Kazalski, and Catherine Hauk walked in slow procession down the two aisles, delivering a breathtaking rendition of “Traveler”. That performance set the bar high for the entire night, and the band proceeded to hurtle over that mark with ease, including newest member Chelle Fulk (violin, viola, vocals). As usual, David Doersch involved the audience on multiple songs: “Boardin’ the Train”, “Oak & Ash & Thorn”, and “Hearts Across The Sea”.
The patter of jokes between and even during songs was fairly standard fare that I’ve heard before at their other concerts, but there’s always enough of a changeup to keep the chatter from feeling canned (and that’s no small achievement on its own, with multiple concerts every month and ten years on the road under lead David Doersch’s belt). This time through, to suit the more intimate venue, David turned largely to personal talk, discussing bits of backstory for various songs: some revealing (he wrote “Hearts Across the Sea” to steer the band back on track during a time of personal turmoil), some touching (Doug Bischoff refers to his wife, Heather, as his “Queen of Argyll”), and some funny (you have to hear Dave tell the story about the turkey to really appreciate the joke; and southeastern Ohio sounds like a really friendly place to visit!).
A few of the instruments were hooked into amplifiers, so perhaps it wasn’t a truly naked concert. But even then, there wasn’t much boost needed, and certainly none for the final song of the first set, “Battle of the Kings/Drummer Boy”. Doug Bischoff and Michael Kazalski, acting as the two Kings of the song, dueled base and guitar, and the finale of a thundering drum line is something that takes no amplifier to be heard in the next building. Other songs, like “Traveler” and “Shenandoah” were entirely a capella, breathtaking in their simplicity.
At the end of the performance, their rendition of “Lord of the Dance” faded out to a gentle a capella ending as the band retreated from the stage just as they’d come in, up the aisles. The resulting (and not at all surprising) standing ovation brought them back in, and they gave us one last song: “Shenandoah”.
The best part of hearing Coyote Run go acoustic, for me, was the chance to hear Cat and Michael’s voices clearly; I never knew they had such gorgeous singing abilities. As Dave wryly noted at one point, from behind her spot at the drums, Cat doesn’t even know there are lyrics to the songs–it’s all just “stuff that comes between the drum solos” to her. The audience generally gets little more chance to hear her singing, and as it turned out, that’s a real shame.
My single criticism of the concert is that the violinist, Chelle Fulk, still seems to be finding her place in the band; while she’s loosening up and being more involved with every concert, she’s still displaying a certain nervousness at times. It’s a very small flaw, and one that will easily be hurdled with experience; she has all the makings of a perfect fit for the band, and her violin and viola playing is fantastic and passionate.
In my view, this concert marks another stage in Coyote Run’s continuing evolution into a truly world-class act; I can’t wait to see what they surprise me with next!
Playlist for this performance:
Traveler; Boardin’ the Train; Queen of Argyll; Hearts Across the Sea; Tiger; Oak & Ash & Thorn; Miner’s Medley; Battle of the Kings/Drummer Boy
Wintry Queen; Tam Lin; Finnean’s Dance; Ripe & Bearded Barley; Lord of the Dance
Partial Instrumentation List: Guitar, Bass, Irish whistle, Bouzouki, Accordion, Bohdrán, Djembe, Kettledrums, Fretless Bass, Violin, Viola, Didgeridoo
Coyote Run Web site