The Buffalo Friends of Folk Music lived up to their mission Saturday night, inviting the Canal Street String Band over to play some tunes for them. The venue was, in a word, intimate, and the seating was limited but this also made for a packed house when people kept filing through the doors to see two of Western New York’s favorite acoustic acts.
It wouldn’t be hard to imagine them playing a bluegrass festival where their choice of material and instrumentation would allow them to fit in with the rest of the performers. They wouldn’t be the cutting edge of the genre, something reserved for the Punch Brothers or Bela Fleck, but they would provide a historical setting for where the music came from, where Bill Monroe drew his earliest influences before he created the genre known as bluegrass.
Part of the magic of seeing a show like this is the discovery of new tunes and the rediscovery of songs from a different time. The Canal Street guys – three men with a deep appreciation for what has gone before – managed to cover a number of traditional “folk” songs, in addition to more recent items strongly influenced by earlier eras. In addition, they’re all multi-instrumentalists, a fact which allows them to provide listeners with a variety of sonic textures during the course of their sets.
The bulk of the evening was devoted to a musical travelogue between traditional material like “Hang Me,” “Johnny Grey” and “Rambler Gambler,” and country-inflected tunes like Hawkshaw Hawkins’ classic take on “Car Hoppin’ Mama” and Bob Wills’ chestnut “Miss Molly.” Still, there was plenty of room for original material, like Phil Banaszak’s “Waltz in Four,” a beautiful instrumental riff that turns the traditional three-quarter dance form into a different beast and “Canal Street Breakdown,” a string-burning tune created to honor the group’s creation.
It was fun watching the players rotate between a standard fiddle, guitar, bass lineup and variations that included mandolins, a dobro and a banjo in the mix. Most of the lead vocal chores were split between Dave Ruch and Jim Whitford but Banaszack joined on vocal harmonies.
Greg Klyma, a longtime Western New York folk scene fixture before he moved to Massachusetts a couple years ago, opened up the concert with a well-received program of original tunes. The audience joined in on the choruses of a few Klyma-penned opuses as he rotated between playing guitar, mandolin and piano. Perhaps the most affecting songs from his set were Klyma’s take on “Cripple Creek,” “Do It Again” (a recent item, written after the recent school shooting in Connecticut) and a now-classic regional riff on Father Baker from 2008’s “Rust Belt Vagabond” album.