How often have you thought, “I’m in the mood for some great bluegrass, but I also want a side serving of cringe worthy dad jokes?” Next time you have that specific craving, you should definitely hope that The David Mayfield Parade is in town. They brought their unique show to the Avalon Theater’s Stoltz Listening Room this past Friday and left a sellout crowd thoroughly entertained.
Mayfield led his impressive band – including standout Steven Moore on 5-string banjo – through a fast-paced 90-minute show, evoking every emotion from joy to despair, sometimes in the same song.
The songs were based in bluegrass, and occasionally ventured out to more straightforward folk or even rock(ish) territory. I have, for example, absolutely no idea how to classify their set closer, Trapped Under the Ice, which featured a call-and-response section of nonsense syllables and a catchy sing-along chorus (“I am a monkey in a cage”). But it rocked, and it absolutely worked.
In addition to top-notch musical chops, the band showcased impressive vocal harmonies on almost every song. Watching Mayfield, Moore and multi-instrumentalist Mat Dunkelberger huddle around their one distinctive retro-styled Ear Trumpet microphone was one of the real pleasures of the show. The three voices, undergirded by Gram Bell’s elegant upright bass, delivered on song after song.
Mayfield and the band were clearly excited to be back playing before a live audience after a two-year hiatus for, as he put it, “no particular reason.” Although he looks more like a Brooklyn hipster than the son of Ohio based bluegrass musicians (as he is), Mayfield’s stage presence was at once goofy, sincere, and self-effacing. He was, at every moment, totally committed to entertaining the audience (and, always, himself).
What made the mixture of comedy and music successful is that the musicianship was so good that even the worst jokes – told with knowing wink – could not distract from it. Mayfield’s mugging worked because his playing – on both the acoustic guitar and the mandolin – and his singing were so powerful. In less talented hands, it would crossed over into being annoying.
This was my first time in the Stoltz Listening Room. It’s hard to imagine a better place to listen to music. Small rooms – Stoltz holds a little under 70 – often get described as “intimate,” and I guess that’s accurate here. But its more than that too – it is comfortable, even spacious, the staff are welcoming, and the sound is phenomenal. When Mayfield sang his first encore from the middle of room, with just his guitar and without any amplification, every note and every cord was loud and clear. I am already scouring the Stolz calendar looking for an excuse to go back.
Mark Pelavin, the founder of Hambleton Cove Consulting, is a writer, consultant and music lover living, very happily, in St. Michaels.