Quartermoon, the folk/bluegrass band formed around the husband/wife nucleus of Raven and John Smith, plays out often enough that you think you know their sound. They have long roots in the sixties and the seventies, back as far as the Gram Parsons alt-country era and the floaty L. A. canyon rock scene. Indeed, Raven Smith both looks and sounds as if she were birthmarked in that era; with her hippie luxe clothing and her ethereal, sugar-syrup soprano that reminds one of Emmylou Harris she is both beautiful apparition and a strong distaff force in the present-day Gainesville music scene.
It isn’t hard to envision John Smith in that California setting either, or California by way of England; I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I realized that John Smith reminded me of John McVie. Perhaps it’s his stance and perhaps it’s his sound, but the association is strong enough that I wonder if both John and Raven were born just a little too late. Theirs is a strong musical core centered on a focal point that was at its apex 40 years ago but which has proved extraordinarily sturdy enough to be called timeless.
I’ve seen the duo in different iterations, most of which centered on folk, bluegrass, and alt-country. They are strong in this genre in which others can become calcified, and you’d leave a show wondering what you did with your own hippie threads and whether Raven Smith is an angel of a vocally palliative sort, sent to Earth for the sole purpose of momentarily relieving what ails you with that silk ribbon of a voice.
At the Bo Diddley Plaza on Friday night, Quartermoon was incandescent. With Ned Stewart on guitar, Mike Mullis (“Gator Chomp”) on drums, and Geoff Perry on fiddle, Quartermoon played a heavier-hitting show than usual. It was a line-up and sound that I hope will be continued.
A grittier Raven was perfect foil for Ned Stewart’s blazing leads. Stewart was not the only player scorching strings at the Plaza; fiddler Geoff Perry liberated notes from his instrument as if releasing hawks to the wild. The longer phrases from his bow took off and then hung suspended in the night air, while the more staccato ones sounded as if they might flare into fire. Perry and drummer Mullis engaged in a face-off that had Mullis’s face in an expression of sheer pleasure; when things come together this right, the only thing to do is to break into a giant, shit-eating grin.
The show Quartermoon played on Friday night should be their true north. The folksy bluegrass roots were still very much in evidence, but they were propelled forward into rock without abandoning one musical life for another. This was a brilliant adaptation, given Gainesville’s enduring love for the classic alt-country genre. They played the kind of concert that ends up drawing big crowds to the Plaza, a testament to the enduring legacy and resurgent interest in folk-rock.
Below, a few shots from the concert. I love shooting fiddlers and here I had a great subject in Geoff Perry, who looks as if he otherwise ought to be playing Hamlet. Once again, I struggled with Plaza lighting, finding too much on Raven’s paleness and not enough on Mike Mullis. I did better with hats than I usually do, although I am still at war with mouths and microphones.