Experiencing Mandolin Orange: Live at Old Settlers Music Festival 2019
I just spent the past 4 days camping, singing, hollerin’ and dancing my way around the Old Settler’s Music Festival. I have a lot of feelings about this experience and the friendships formed over a collective love of American Roots music, but that’s another post. Instead, I want to share the experience of what is hands-down, one of the absolute best live music sets I’ve ever witnessed.
Mandolin Orange is an Americana/folk duo consisting of Andrew Marlin & Emily Frantz. Thanks to my partner, I am familiar with several of their more popular songs, which always find their way onto the Roots and Folk playlists from Spotify, but I’ve never taken the time to fully immerse myself in their sound. After standing in awe just 10 feet away from the pair as they played and sang some of the most soulful, burning, and powerful music I’ve heard in a long time, I can admit that I felt regret for having not spent more time with their music.
Andrew and Emily opened by standing alone on stage with just their mandolin and guitar respectively. And here is where writing this review gets tough for me. Not having an intimate knowledge of their songs, attending a music festival near a one-building town in rural Texas, and a very taxed cellular service system means that I have no record of what their setlist was. To my greater point though, their stage presence, their banter with the crowd, and the power of their music makes this a moot point.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen a live performance that drew me in so completely that an hour long set felt like only minutes. Echoes of a bow drawn stand-up bass washing over the crowd amidst swelling drums, rising guitar, and furiously strummed mandolin overtook the crowd. There was a feeling of connectedness as we all stood shoulder to shoulder, singing and cheering through the happy, and collectively silenced through the somber moments.
There are two songs, though, that spoke to me a little more dearly. Marlin detailed that their most recent album, “Tides of a Teardrop,” was inspired by processing the loss of his mother at just 18 years old. This explanation led into the performance of what he described as a Gospel song, “Suspended in Heaven,” written for his mother. Reminiscent of stand-bys like “I Am Weary (Let me Rest),” “Suspended in Heaven” is a less religiously specific, but very spiritual song, exploring the memory and loss of a loved one. The song was delivered with only Andrew, Emily, and their touring guitarist gathered around a single microphone. Each time Andrew sang the line, “Mother is gone…” the grief and release of this single phrase could be felt spreading through the audience. I cannot remember ever seeing or hearing a more peaceful and earnest performance of a song.
Mandolin Orange also included a rousing performance of “Wildfire.” This song is probably their most well-known song across their six album history. The song largely focuses on pride and racism erupting into the American Civil War and its lasting impact, discusses how an ideology will spread like wildfire given the necessary environment. The song is beautiful. The message is important, but what was most striking from their performance at Old Settler’s Music Festival 2019 came in the last few verses:
“I was born a southern son,
In a small southern town where the rebels run wild,
They beat their chest and they swear: we’re gonna rise again”
At the idea of rising again, a small but audible whoop happened, and then came the most powerful moment of this entire experience for me: Marlin without missing a beat just said, “No.” The rest of the crowd erupted in cheers, applause, and support of the true message of this song as the band played on:
“It should have been different, it could have been easy,
The day that old Warren died, hate should have gone with it,
But here we are, caught in the wildfire”
Lastly, the encore. Two things: most concert-goers are familiar with the false encore, which have always bored me, because I’m of the opinion that if you’re going to play more, just play more. At the same time, I recognize that festivals run on tight schedules where encores are a strict “no” from the organizers.
The fans of Mandolin Orange care not for such rules. After the last song of their set (an ode to their fans), the band graciously exited the stage and the cheering and hollering commenced. The lights went down fully, and came back up for a stage reset, and yet the cheering continued, almost pulling Mandolin Orange back out. Emily laughed and said, “I didn’t think we were allowed to do this,” and immediately dove into a final song.
I walked up to this performance to support my partner and her love for Mandolin Orange and the music they make, but walked away sure that I’ll never miss the opportunity to watch them perform again.
Are you familiar with Mandolin Orange? Have you seen them perform before? Do you have an experience or feelings about Americana music? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments below!