Concert Review: Dom Flemons @ Caffe Lena, 05/25/2023
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Taking the stage this past Thursday at Caffe Lena was the enigmatic Dom Flemons. One of the most unique performers I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing, those in attendance that night were greeted with a virtuosic, quirky, and captivating night of music, through and through. As Flemons navigated his way across a myriad of instruments, incorporating wonderful storytelling along the way, the artist drew upon genres of blues, Western, folk, and bluegrass to deliver a night to remember for new and old fans alike.
Coming out wielding nothing but harmonica and percussion bones, Flemons quickly greeted the audience before starting his night off with a rendition of “Old Cindy Gal.” How strange of an opener, I thought, yet in a way it surely fit the ethos of the event. For any concertgoers that may not know what to expect from Flemons, this was a great way of breaking the ice. Moving right along, the performer swapped out his harmonica for a banjo, and then his guitar, playing traditional tunes, along with songs off his new album, Traveling Wildfire. One of my favorite instrumentals of the night was “Freight Train.” He really drove home the concept of this vehicle; there were often times where he made his acoustic guitar sound like a train rolling on the tracks! He did it all while appearing unfazed, to boot! It was flawless and easy for him.
His abilities as an acoustic blues player can’t be overstated. Take for instance, his song “Steel Pony Blues.” Dedicating the song’s origins to the rich culture of Black Cowboys of yesteryear – those the likes of Lightnin’ Hopkins and company – Dom’s vocals floated above and below a nearly note-perfect performance. It was some damned fantastic picking: clean in all the right ways; muted strings at all the right times. Another great cowboy tune performed that night – and closing out the first set – was a version of Jack Thorpe’s “Little Joe the Wrangler.”
One of the things that really drew me in to Flemons’ performance was how he weaved storytelling in to the event, all while setting the musical atmosphere. One of his standout songs of the evening was a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Guess I’m Doing Alright.” What made this choice unique is that Dylan’s never released the song on an album.
I really enjoyed hearing Flemons discuss how and where he picked up the various fingerpicking skills he utilized throughout the evening, applying them to the guitar and banjo. To be great at one instrument is a feat unto itself. Flemons was amazing at everything, however. Near the end of the night, he performed a fiddle tune called “The Groundskeeper” on a harmonica. Yes, a harmonica. And, what’s more he spun the harmonica around vertically whilst playing, bending notes and giving his audience a new visual aspect to the concert.
Whether it was the beautiful waltzes of “Slow Dance With You” or “Dark Beauty,” the quirky and lyrically offbeat “Hot Chicken” – a song that Flemons reflects on making him a standout for a five-year old that screamed “Dad, isn’t that the ‘Hot Chicken’ man?! – or the litany of traditional tunes, there wasn’t a bad song the entire evening. By the time he closed out the night with the spiritual “We Are Almost Down to the Shore,” everyone in the room was singing.
For those that are a fan of bluegrass, blues, and Western, should see Dom Flemons if they get the chance. Taking old traditional sounds and making them sound fresh is a huge skill, and Flemons does it with aplomb! I hope to see him live again one day.