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The Martha Bassett Show is a musical variety show produced in the Reeves Theater in Elkin, NC. This year, the show's third season has been temporarily disrupted by the continued closure of the historic venue to audiences. However, in August 2020, the show began producing live-streamed performances from the Reeves stage, and more performances of this nature are coming up in May and June 2021. In the meantime, The ArtsCenter of Carrboro has been streaming (for free!) past episodes from the Martha Basset Show, filmed live before the pandemic.
Helmed by Martha Bassett, one of the pre-eminent singer-songwriters in NC, the collaborative show features both up-and-coming and venerated artists. These days, Bassett is categorized as a Country or Americana artist, due to the style of her most recent records (she has 9 albums to date) but her vocal work continues to span the genres of jazz and gospel, through live performances and residencies throughout the Triad region. As this particular episode exemplified, each performance is meant to be a collaborative conversation amongst all onstage. Filmed in March 2020 just before the shutdown, this episode features three acts: Jill Andrews, Rod Abernethy, and Joe Thrift & Russell McCumber.
The hour-long episode opened with a jaunty rendition of the bluesy "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" from Bassett and her band. Sung in a conversational style, the country ballad "If I Could Only Fly" was next – Bassett's cover of this song can also be heard on her 2019 album, Hot Pepper Queen. The rest of the episode alternated among performances from the three featured acts, with Bassett often collaborating. With her guitar, Bassett sunk in easily with Thrift and McCumber's merry, fiddling "Old Joe." A performance of the "Ookpik Waltz" was featured later, with delightful variations on the original tune played by McCumber on his fiddle.
Abernethy's solo performance of Bob Dylan's "Oxford Town," playing both guitar and harmonica, was fiery and full of intricate solo licks on the guitar. Abernethy, a Rutherford County native, is a renowned folk artist and film/video game composer, as well as an adjunct professor at UNCSA. The song "My Father Was a Quiet Man" from his new album Normal Isn't Normal Anymore, is a story written in honor of his father, describing snapshots of his childhood memories, leading up to the moment when his dad bought him his first guitar.
Nashville-based artist Andrews' crystalline voice is both gentle and insistent – with a stripped back texture, her song "The Party" shone on the Reeves Stage. It's from her 2020 album Thirties, her fourth solo album. Her earlier songs maintain the same sincere tenderness, as the soaring vocals of "Blue Eyes" (from the 2011 record The Mirror) proved. Andrews' performance of "The Kids Are Growing Up" was beautifully augmented by Bassett and her band, with Bassett's alto voice creating a harmony beneath the melody. All of the performances on this episode, Andrews' included, were made more meaningful by the artists' spoken introductions, and the poignancy of this last pre-pandemic performance in 2020. Even though it wasn't "live," it was joyous to hear an audience clapping and responding to the music and emotion onstage.