With a wintry dampness in the air and a promise of more snow around the corner (the first snow of the season had just arrived earlier in the day), a comfortable crowd settled in at the Turner Hall Ballroom, fresh off the salted streets. The air was one of pre-holiday expectancy; snow was not the only palatable thing around the corner. Tables and chairs graced the Turner Hall floor and show-goers hummed in the semi-darkness before the show.
Most remained seated throughout Hayward Williams‘ opening set, but many abandoned their chairs for the second act, Blessed Feathers, who took to the stage armed with their simple acoustic guitar and banjo setup, stationed behind two solitary microphones. The duo’s new EP Peaceful Beasts in an Ocean of Weeds was merely two months old, yet they didn’t give that the complete set spotlight, lending a well-rounded and unexpected air; they debuted a week-old song just as confidently as they presented the rest of their stripped-down material. Guitarist/vocalist Donivan Berube’s dynamically expressive stage presence was a nice pairing with banjoist/vocalist Jacquelyn Beaupre’s serene and confident one. Beaupre’ let herself get flustered only after fielding and accepting an on-stage marriage proposal from her band mate (and boyfriend), Berube, still managing to pull off a steady and resounding sans-microphone version of “Hey! All You Floridians”. After that unexpected turn, the surprised and appreciative audience was so quiet and attentive, the un-mic’d song went off without a hitch and was a nice and proper set send-off.
Wisconsin’s Cory Chisel and his wandering sons arrived to the stage after an appropriately subtle and sweet set transition — a duet with pianist/vocalist Adriel Denae. The two lead the rest of the set and their band into what that first song had highlighted — their solid vocal harmonizing. Denae’s classic vocals match very well with Chisel’s heartfelt chops and they were the true focal point. The audience, by this point, were nearly all up at the front of the stage, and whereas they were rapt and attentive for Blessed Feathers, were visibly rocking. They danced and yelled out to the band who interacted plenty back, on cheerful terms with their home turf, Chisel encouraging the audience to make it as much as a “big, weird family reunion” as possible. The band played off of their year’s earlier release, Old Believers, treating the stage the same as had they been playing the venerable Austin City Limits, and the crowd couldn’t have asked for a better early holiday present — ear candy with a lot of hometown heart.