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What's better than a summer evening of chamber music played in a cozy bakery? Chamber music with an art show happening at the same time. And what's better than that? The addition of freshly baked cupcakes for the win! The first of Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra's Symphony on Tap events, held at The Sweet Palette in downtown Fayetteville this past Saturday, was the perfect union of music, art and sweets.
FSO says Symphony on Tap is an effort "to engage our community through music and beer." While there was no beer on tap for Saturday's event, the merging of the original music of Jess & Rae (Jessica Caviness and Rachael Lawson) with the welcoming environment provided by The Sweet Palette and the art exhibit "Imago Dei: All People in the Image of God" created an atmosphere of homey warmth. As the artists, many of them members of the unhoused community (more on that later), mingled with concert guests, Jess & Rae's lyrical chamber music provided the ideal backdrop.
The moment my companion and I stepped into the space, we were greeted with a feast of the senses. The music was the first thing that we noticed. A refreshing combination of vocals accompanied by an instrumental quartet welcomed us in from the heat. As we found a seat, a bit of a challenging task as the space was full of a wide variety of people in mixed groups listening, sipping coffee, and quietly chatting, we realized we were in the midst of an art exhibit. Christian Prince, an art instructor who conducts classes for unhoused people on Fridays, shared with me his vision of giving people of all walks of life an opportunity to express themselves through visual art. Guests wandered freely around, admiring the unique pieces on display as Jess & Rae performed just off to the side. To be in a place with both performance art and visual art (while eating a cupcake) was a treat indeed.
When asked if the combination of the two events was planned, FSO Executive Director Anna Meyer and Meghan Woolbright, marketing manager, insisted it was an unintentional double booking at the venue. But, as Woolbright aptly said, it was a "happy coincidence" that the two events were happening simultaneously.
Caviness (who plays violin in the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra) and Lawson, (along with backup instrumentalists made up of Caviness' father and her employer), were a delightful duo. At first, I assumed their music was a set of old Celtic folksongs. But no, the duo was playing their own original compositions. Having met in college at the University of Wyoming, the duo quickly discovered they were not only going to be friends, but joint performers as well. With Caviness on violin and Lawson on flute, accompanied by bass and guitar, "Jess & Rae," effortlessly floated between playing and singing in harmony. In the piece entitled "Smokey Mountain Air," I could hear Lawson's flute as the wind floating through mountain passes and Caviness' violin imitating the song of a low mountain stream. Or perhaps the flute mimicked bird song and the violin was the rush of tree leaves. "North," a piece that Lawson described as more "atmospheric" than the other numbers, included breathy vocals with some harmonic dissonance. This combination created a desolate sound, but with a warmth that comes from voices blending perfectly. It was hauntingly beautiful. "Jess & Rae's" final number, "Evergreen," was the sweet ending we needed to wrap up the evening. They brought us home with a piece that summed up their skills as musicians, vocalists, and composers.
As we ventured out into the night, my companion turned to me and said, "That was the most feel-good night I've had in a long time." I agreed. Fortunately, Symphony on Tap events occur eight more times this season at a variety of venues around Fayetteville. Jazz quartets, violin and piano duos, and string quartets await our listening ears. We can't wait to see what other happy coincidences are in store.
For information on other Symphony on Tap events, search "Symphony on Tap" in the CVNC search bar. For more information on Jess & Rae, find them on Facebook at Jess and Rae Music or Instagram at @jessandraemusic.