BILL O'NEILL: On the Town - Hey, expand your horizons...y’all!

How’s this for a near-perfect evening? A musical education from a charming woman, a delicious and surprising dinner, a free concert of engaging and surprisingly accessible music.

I didn’t exactly grow up, in industrial New Jersey, on Bluegrass. Claire Lynch took the time before her concert Saturday night to teach me about this style, where it comes from, the composition of the usual Bluegrass band and the source of the distinctive sound. Ms. Lynch was one of the pioneer women in Bluegrass, a traditionally male-dominated form. She has solid songwriting credentials, not to mention a couple of Grammy nominations and number one Bluegrass recordings. She gave me a little lesson as well about how her own music draws from and departs from traditional Bluegrass.

As soon as folks started playing at the free Bluegrass concert at Cambier Park, the basics were departed from. The first act, combining members of a couple of local bands, had no fiddle and no banjo, but sounded like Bluegrass (to me). Casey Weston, a seventeen year old girl with a big voice, stood up to deliver a couple of country tunes with authority.

Then it was time for the Claire Lynch Band. This group has the usual Bluegrass instruments, although it is composed of four members rather than the usual five, with a couple of members doubling instruments . From the moment they began it was clear we were in good hands. The four instruments delivered a full rich sound, not at all the twangy stuff I was expecting. There was plenty of pickin’, but always at the service of the particular song and its mood. The music had variety and depth. There was unexpected chromaticism. There were times when the music hinted at Mark O’Connor, Loretta Lynn, Corky Siegel, Alison Krause, even, in “Woods of Sipsey,” Duncan Sheik (but better). There was one swing-type number “I’m fallin’ in love,” that had the sound of a jazz standard and that John Pizzarelli might record. One of the band members, Mark Schatz, played “body percussion” and had the audience hooting.

I’m sold on this take on the traditional style and I’m now enjoying “Claire Lynch Radio” on my Pandora. It’s a little hard to understand why the Naples audience, which shows up in droves for perfectly good but basically conventional performances, did not come out in greater numbers for this concert by an acclaimed professional. Expand your horizons, y’all!

In between the talk and the concert we walked over to Rossopomodoro on Fifth Avenue. Our waiter Domenico knows everything about Neapolitan food and shared his enthusiasm with us. The a buffalo appetizer was way beyond the usual Caprese salad, and the pizza was - I’m not kidding, and this from a Jersey boy - the best I’ve ever had.

Do we have it good or what?

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