Coping with crisisAmong the first in-person concerts held this year at the Duke Energy Performing Arts Center, PineCone‘s presentation of Amythyst Kiah with Alexa Rose at Fletcher Opera Theater was a lovely return to the concert hall for both performers and audience alike. However, to ensure that a larger audience could experience this performance, it was also offered in a very high-quality livestream format, produced by Cinehawk Productions. This performance was part of PineCone’s Down Home Concerts series, an innovative concert series returning to in-person performances.

Asheville-based singer-songwriter Alexa Rose took the stage first, accompanied by Mipso’s Joseph Terrell on lap steel and guitar, and Alex Bingham of Hiss Golden Messenger playing upright bass. She played a mixture of unreleased songs and songs from her 2019 album Medicine for Living. Her song “Diamonds” immediately illuminated Rose’s fluid and clear voice, which was both soulful and appropriately twangy, a collision of genres echoing her multifaceted music. Her newest single, “Clearwater Park,” is exemplary of Rose’s detailed snapshot-style storytelling. Her creative arrangements with Terrell and Bingham added the gentle pulse of keyboard-powered drums to her album’s title track “Medicine for Living,” while the underlying lap steel tones functioned as a gentle synthesizer. Sincere, poignant storytelling is a main theme of Rose’s writing, along with forcefully poetic lines such as “it’s getting hard to hear myself over all this humanity,” in an unreleased song titled “Human.” Although Rose is relatively new to the music scene, she is definitely one to watch, especially now that in-person performances are beginning to resume.

Amythyst Kiah is known as “one of Americana’s great up-and-coming secrets,” according to Rolling Stone, but hopefully she doesn’t remain a “secret” much longer. Her latest album, Wary + Strange came out on June 18 (the day after this live performance). Kiah began her set with “Hangover Blues” and “Firewater,” two of the tracks from Wary + Strange. The latter is a slower-tempo ballad that featured Kiah’s smooth vibrato as well as gentle, arpeggiated guitar picking. “Fancy Drones (Fracture Me)” was actually the first song Kiah recorded for her album, a fiery but swaying song with a repeating melody that highlighted Kiah’s vocal nuances. Throughout her performance, Kiah took the time to introduce each song and its origins and background for the audience, such as “Sleeping Queen,” a song that came to Kiah clearly in a dream.

Kiah played primarily her original music, with a few exceptions, such as her arrangement of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees.” This cover, recorded on her 2013 album Dig, might as well be Kiah’s original song, since it differs a great deal from the original. To close the concert, Kiah returned to her first album with the song “Myth,” a bluesy tune that showcased her effortless synthesis of upper and lower registers. For a much-requested encore, Kiah came back out for “Black Myself,” a song she had recorded originally with the project Our Native Daughters, and again in a solo endeavor for Wary + Strange. This song is bold and unapologetic, calling out the Americana/folk genre’s gatekeeping of an originally African instrument, with the line “I pick the banjo up and they sneer at me / ’cause I’m black myself.” This choice was definitely a powerful end to an incredible concert.