Concert Review: Sugar & The Tree/The Bluebillies/Marc Delgado @ The Strand Theatre, 03/31/2023
HUDSON FALLS – As the end of yet another work week began, a theatre in the quiet town of Hudson Falls was well underway in setting up for a special showcase of local talent. The theatre? Why, none other than The Strand Theatre! The occasion? Sugar & The Tree’s debut EP release party. And, if that band – dedicated their craft to the deeply rich and traditional sounds of Americana and roots-rock – weren’t enough, celebrating the release with them that night was bluegrass-gospel (and more!) band, The Bluebillies, and captivating singer-songwriter, Marc Delgado. Serving as emcee for the night was cowboy-poet Mark Munzert, who guided those in attendance through a terrific evening of music!
Starting the evening off was Marc Delgado. It wasn’t long before this singer-songwriter drew the audience in with his deft abilities to weave spoken-word poetry alongside intricate guitar fingerpicking and amazingly delicate – yet somehow firm – vocals. This man could – and did – tell a story with just one voice and one guitar. Delgado seemingly filled the entire theatre stage with his presence by the end of his short set, which included stories of love, despair, and more. A sight-to-behold, to say the least, the singer-songwriter, whose storytelling rivaled that of the passion with which Leonard Cohen brings, with a voice and instrumentation that was at times a masterclass in power and use of dynamics, definitely left this concertgoer wanting to hear more from him.
Up next was one of the area’s favorite bluegrass outfits: The Bluebillies! Comprised of Mel Guarino on guitar, Mark Guarino on bass, Frank Orsini on fiddle, and Greg Bucking on lead guitar, the band performed with such a level of panache that only veterans of the business could pull off. My favorite tune of theirs that night was “Run, Daddy, Run (Momma’s Got a Gun).” While true for their entire set, Mark made extremely clear on this track how much he loved to play the bass hard, loud, and with the conviction of a rock and roller. The Del Shannon “Runaway” musical easter egg was a fun inclusion in the song’s arrangement. What is particularly fascinating about this band is how each member has great vocal abilities, making their instrumentation far from the only thing that stands out. Covering classic bluegrass, gospel, and country with a compelling twist, and intertwining material from greats such as John Prine to original material, The Bluebillies prove time and time again they’re an act worth seeing! To close out their set, the group performed a stunning version of the gospel tune “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”
Perhaps the two opening bands and their abilities bred the following criticism, but my only complaint of the night was how long it took the main act to get onstage. I didn’t want the show to stop! That said, by the time Sugar & The Tree started playing, they quickly demonstrated they were worth the wait. And, it wasn’t any member in particular that made the band shine. Sugar & The Tree, spearheaded by songwriting duo Marc Clayton (guitar, banjo, and vocals), and Heather Richards (guitar and vocals), were brilliantly supported by Mike Craner on bass, Mike Kelley on piano, Ed Jahn on lead guitar, and Bob Assini on drums. Song after song, the band put on a masterclass of delivering country and Americana music, making old songs feel new and original songs feel nostalgically familiar. But, if I deign to point any particular member out, it is indeed Marc Clayton. Not only was his voice in top performance that night (I observed a nearly three-octave range!), but it was perhaps the best I’d ever heard him sing! For example, the band’s take on “Folsom Prison Blues” was delivered in such a fresh way; Marc sang way higher than the recording while also singing way lower. It was fantastic.
Song after song, the band played on, seamlessly intertwining their originals and further expanding on the storytelling concert vibe of the night. With a set lasting an hour and twenty minutes, the night included all of the tunes off their debut EP, High Lonesome Wind, and concluded with a finale of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” where everyone took the stage together. With the crowd singing along with the band, this made for quite the endearing way to end the performance.
A great night of music, rich with storytelling, and the value of family and friendship, it was hard to miss the amount of love that filled the theatre. I can’t wait to see what they do next!
Setlist for Sugar & The Tree (songs written by Marc Vincent and Heather Richards unless stated otherwise):
- That’s Alright, Mama [Elvis Presley]
- Hey, Good Lookin’ [Hank Williams]
- Together Again [Buck Owens]
- High Lonesome Wind
- Under a Texas Moon
- Folsom Prison Blues [Johnny Cash]
- Wings of a Sparrow [Heather Richards]
- Poncho and Lefty [Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson]
- Ol’ Country Heart
- Honky Tonkin’ [Hank Williams]
- The Greatest Story
- Ring of Fire [Johnny Cash]
- Since I Don’t Have You
- Love On The Range
- Las Vegas [Gram Parsons]
- Whiskey River [Willie Nelson]
- Will the Circle Be Unbroken [Christian Hymn]