Punch Brothers to Appear with Special Guest, Haley Heynderickx, at Troy Music Hall
TROY – The Troy Savings Bank Music Hall and WEXT Radio is thrilled to welcome back the Punch Brothers, led by Music Hall favorite, mandolinist Chris Thile, on Monday, February 28, at 7:30 PM. Opening for them is up-and-coming artist Haley Heynderickx.
The Punch Brothers are touring in support of their new album, Hell on Church Street, to be released in January. In November of 2020, when the world felt so full of uncertainty, the Grammy-winning folk band did the one thing that they could rely on: they stood in a circle, facing one another, and made music together. A weeklong recording session, after quarantining and little rehearsal outside of a few Zoom calls, had culminated in the new record, Hell on Church Street—a reimagining of bluegrass great Tony Rice’s landmark solo album, Church Street Blues.
Hell on Church Street is a potent work by a band realizing its own powers and returning to the foundations of its music. The record finds the band at its most spontaneous—taking risks, listening deeply to one another, and approaching the music with a kind of immediacy only accessible to musicians of their particular ability who have also forged a deep trust over their decade and a half together. Bassist Paul Kowert considers this album to “harken back to our early days in the band when we were playing regularly on The Lower East Side, learning all this new material to expand our sonic arsenal.”
This band of virtuosi had spent more than a decade changing the face of acoustic music, stretching the limitations of instruments, and influencing a generation of young musicians—but life has a way of keeping a band from getting in the same room. Mandolinist Chris Thile elaborates that “these sessions were a reminder for me of what’s really important. I felt silly having this band take up so little of my creative year; it reminded me that us five together is critical to my happiness.”
Church Street Blues was Tony Rice’s great statement. By his mid-twenties, Rice had already made his name as a member of the legendary bluegrass band JD Crowe and The New South and pushed the boundaries of string music as a founding member of the David Grisman Quartet. An exceptionally gifted singer—and a guitarist who redefined the possibilities of the instrument through his synthesis of bluegrass, bebop-era jazz, American folk music and virtually anything else that caught his ear—he once remarked “as soon as you become a diehard anything, be it jazz or bluegrass or whatever, you’re depriving yourself of a whole world of music.” Tony Rice created a new language for this music that continues to influence generations of musicians, and deeply influenced all of the Punch Brothers in their formative years. Banjo player Noam Pikelny adds, “The records that most inspired me to want to play music all had Tony Rice as the common thread.” Church Street Blues was Rice at his most vulnerable: stripped back to guitar, his voice, and a memorable collection of songs from heavyweights like Gordon Lightfoot and bluegrass founder Bill Monroe. Rice’s versions of these tunes have since become the standard, and Church Street Blues a masterpiece, in both interpretation and delivery.
The decision to reimagine Rice’s record came from a hastily assembled set at the prestigious Rockygrass Festival in Colorado in 2019. “We knew all the songs,“ says bassist Paul Kowert. Fiddler Gabe Witcher adds, “We had to figure out something to play for a set of bluegrass, and we figured the audience would know that record. As soon as they caught onto what we were doing we hoped they would be into it, and that proved correct, fortunately.” The Rockygrass set quickly became a thing of legend, with bootlegged recordings being passed around by rabid fans on Reddit and other social media sites.
Hell on Church Street’s adventurous path ranges from the title track—a song of longing for home penned by the legendary folk songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Norman Blake—converted from a solo guitar performance to the full band playing in a gliding 5/4 time signature, to a honky-tonk version of Jimmie Rodgers’ Any Old Time, to a free improvised version of the bluegrass standard “Gold Rush,” to a straight-forward playing of the fiddle tune “Cattle in the Cane,” where Pikelny and Eldridge play one of Rice’s most challenging solos note-for-note in unison.
The album is courageous in the reinterpretation of its material, a sign Punch Brothers was truly channeling their hero. “Tony cared so much about individuality and really doing things your own way. If you’re going to do something, do it like you,” remembers Eldridge. Pikelny adds, “We’ve closed some doors for ourselves over the years by shying away from covering other people’s material on record beyond one or two songs here and there. At long last we have a Punch Brothers covers record—but I can’t imagine making a more personal one, solely through the power of interpretation and delivery.”
Hell on Church Street was intended to be its own work of art, but it was also meant to be a gift and homage to Rice. “We wanted to thank him for being one of the biggest influences on us and anyone who interacts with American roots music,” says Thile. Pikelny remembers saying to Thile, “We needed to make this album in our lifetime. But wouldn’t it be a shame if we didn’t make this record in Tony Rice’s lifetime?”
On Christmas Day 2020 Tony Rice passed away at his home in Reidsville, North Carolina. The band was devastated by the loss of its hero and the sad realization he would never receive their gift and honor. Pikelny, along with the rest of the band, realized that the true gift was given to them. “After we got over the shock of losing our hero and friend, we realized what Tony had left with us was his music, his spirit, and his legacy. And clear marching orders to ‘make it all count.’”
Eldridge, when asked what Rice might think of this record, offered: “He liked things that were unique, and he celebrated people who were unique in their work and their art. But he also loved spontaneity, and this is the most spontaneous record Punch Brothers has ever made. In those ways, this record is the truest and direct tribute to everything we learned from him.”
Hell on Church Street captures the beautiful contradictions at the Punch Brothers’ core: a performance built on a spontaneity that can only come from a lifetime of practice; breathtaking virtuosity employed to channel deep emotion; and deep respect for those who came before tied to fearlessness to forge their own path.
Thile says, in summary, “We spent a lot of time contemplating what happened when Church Street Blues hit our ears as a band: we held it out, we conversed with it, and now we’re handing it to you.”
Opening for this performance is musician Haley Heynderickx. Indie folk singer/songwriter Haley Heynderickx draws from a wide array of influences, citing her religious Philipino-American upbringing, the folk music of the 1960s and ’70s, jazz radio, and the idiosyncratic acoustic guitar styles of Leo Kottke and John Fahey. All of those ingredients find their way into her music, which pairs deft fingerpicking with lyrics that flirt with levity but hew toward introspection.
Tickets are priced at $59.50, $49.50, $45.50, depending on the section of the Hall. Single tickets went on sale to the general public on Tuesday, December 21, at 10 AM via phone, (518) 273-0038, in person, or online at www.troymusichall.org. Tickets are available at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall Box Office, 30 Second Street, Troy, Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. More information on the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall and upcoming programs is available on the website at www.troymusichall.org.