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Review: Carlson, Benefit Street Band bring wit to Woody Hawley series

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Who would have thought that within hours of having my heart broken in double overtime by a successful two-point conversion, that there would be joy in my life so soon afterward.

Thank you Rob Carlson and the Benefit Street Band for making me crackle with laughter, forgetting my sorrows over a one-point loss by West Virginia University to Texas Christian University. 

Carlson and two of the three other band members performed Saturday at the Clay Center Walker Theater as part of the Woody Hawley singer/songwriter series.

Think about it. How many concerts have you gone to where the encore is a song about all the side effects of various medications and the audience is encouraged to sing along on the one-word chorus "diarrhea." And they did!

Carlson is a singer/songwriter with a wicked wit that he uses to parody smug folk singers and pop icons.

He claimed not be able to mimic celebrities for too long -- "My John Wayne imitation becomes the late Howard Cosell. I can't stay with it."

He did sound a lot like Elvis in his opening song "It's Good to be King" -- with "good looks and a million bucks..."

And then there's -- it must be a love/hate relationship with Bob Dylan. For many years, he did parodies of Dylan for American Comedy Network. And he performed one Saturday, "A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall," only in this version the blue-eyed son overdoses on Viagra.

Still, he chose Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" when he invited old Charleston friends to join him and his band on stage. They were Charleston lawyer Josh Barrett, who Carlson said he has known since grade school and once played together in the same band; Bartett's wife, Julie Adams of the Mountain Stage Band; and Ron Sowell, also of the Mountain Stage band and artistic director of the Woody Hawley series.

The extended group also sang "Peaceable Kingdom," which Carlson co-wrote with Jon Gailman in 1974. Ron Sowell told how he heard the song in an Atlanta record shop and liking it so much, he bought Carlson's album and recorded the song with the band he then played with -- The Putnam County Pickers.

Another West Virginia connection is the Avalon Folk Festival in Paw Paw, where Carlson and his band have played at the clothes optional event. Naturally, Carlson got a song out of it: Done in Calypso style, Carlson sang of "folk music in the raw in old Paw Paw."

It wasn't all laughs, though. There were what Carlson called "quiet songs," like "The One Called Shenandoah," in which a country singer has been singing for 40 years about "Wildflower, Tennessee and Shenandoah."  

Carlson was accompanied by very accomplished musicians; Paul Payton on the key board and Vinnie Pasternak on the mandolin and banjo provided a polished sound to the sets.

Nels Andrews opened the evening with a half dozen of his original, very literate songs. He won the hearts of the audience by sharing his ordeal. He learned on Saturday morning that he hadn't arrived in Charleston, W.Va. He was, instead, in Charles Town, W.Va.

The next Woody Hawley concert is Jan. 5, featuring Michael Johnson.  

Reach Rosalie Earle at earle@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.


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