Summer nights in the garden of a colonial inn, listening to music in the dappled green shade and sipping a drink, have a special magic. I was at Bee & Thistle Inn in Old Lyme on Sunday to see Jeff Burnham play live, accompanied by viola player Lindsey Clark (also part of his regular band, The Insiders). A full Jeff Burnham set has been on my bucket list since I saw the very end of his set at the Glastonbury Apple Harvest Festival last fall, hunched on a sopping wet bale of hay in the drizzling rain.
I’ve been especially eager to see a full set with originals since the release of the first Jeff Burnham & The Insiders EP, Lost and Found, which I’m still enthusiastic about (and now have on CD).
This was a peak summer-solstice experience: Bee & Thistle is charming, has terrific service, and introduced me to the concept of deviled eggs. I was fortunate enough to nab an armchair near the performing area, so I had a good view of elements I wouldn’t ordinarily see, such as Lindsey Clark’s striking the viola strings for a percussive effect (this might be col legno? — it’s really cool multi-purposing, since it’s clearly percussion while still sounding like a stringed instrument added 8/4 — she says it’s called chopping). She also provided lovely haunting vocals, which you can hear here on this song about escaping rust belt woes.
There were covers, and I’m regretting not getting video of more than snippets, as there happened to be a lot of my favorite songs to cover (those in the know immediately guess “Folsom Prison Blues,” which, yes — and also John Prine’s “Paradise”) and a little Tom Petty (“American Girl”) because we should all be more like Tom Petty. (That’s a joke on a song by Still Rivers, but not entirely irrelevant, since Burnham has a Petty-esque tone to his vocals, and his acoustic arrangements make the case that a key difference between Americana and heartland rock is how acoustic versus electric.)
Burnham is an engaging performer, both joking around about how the green room here really is green, and breathing gritty life into songs along a continuum from folk to heartland rock. The true prize for showing up, though, was getting to hear new originals live for the first time. Here’s the opening track from Lost and Found, “The One.”