Bryan Cultural Series brings joyful sounds of Molasses Creek and Coyote to the stage

Published 6:14 pm Wednesday, November 3, 2021

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By Kip Tabb

It would be hard to imagine a concert any better than the Molasses Creek Band and Coyote bringing the best of Ocracoke to First Flight High School last Saturday night.

“We’ll be mixing up this evening,” Dave Tweedie of Molasses Creek said as the band got ready. And mix it up they did.

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What has always made both bands so remarkable is their ability to perform a remarkable range of musical styles – making the arrangements their own, yet remaining true to the original idea of the song.

At first glance they – Molasses Creek, especially – seem like they would play bluegrass. Gary Mitchell on guitar, Tweedie on fiddle and Kim France keeping rhythm on standup bass is a bluegrass trio. And their first number, Waterbound, had a distinctly bluegrass feel to it.

The song speaks with joy about the trials and tribulations that sometimes happen on Ocracoke.

“Water bound and I can’t get home . . .” is the refrain, something that happens from time to time on the island.

The song, though, was a great introduction to what would follow. Flawless vocal harmonies, Tweedie’s fiddle playing was precise and perfect for the piece, France on bass setting the pace.

However, regardless of their instruments or even their roots in music, Molasses Creek is not a bluegrass band and Mitchell’s heartfelt rendering of Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changing” makes the case. The arrangement starts simply with Mitchell’s vocals and guitar, then the bass and finally the fiddle comes in.

Just about the time that the audience begins to settle in for a mellow evening, along come the combined groups of Molasses Creek and Coyote, adding mandolin, vocals and occasional guitar of Marcy Brenner and the blazing lead guitar solos of Lou Castro to the mix.

Mixing the bands allowed Castro and Tweedie to play off one another and the first tune they performed highlighted that.

“Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter” had Brenner’s vocals, a strong, crystal clear alto, framing the words and bringing the song to life. But the song really became an absolute delight when Castro’s blazing fast guitar lead came to the fore.

Castro takes on vocals and he and Brenner go back and forth – almost as though they are sending vocal letters. Then Tweedie comes on fiddle, note for note where he needs to be. It’s all held together by Kim France on that standup bass line that guides everything.

In writing a review of this show, a wonderful difficulty, but a difficulty all the same, is how much music Molasses Creek and Coyote played and diverse it was.

In addition to being accomplished musicians, the performers on stage had also written some delightful songs. There was Tweedie’s wonderfully evocative “Howard Street” about memories of one of the most historic streets in Ocracoke.

Gary Mitchell’s “Can We Agree On Love?” is a beautiful ballad asking more than questions about love, expanding it include so many essential issues confronting us: truth, hope and so much more.

As a group, or duet, Coyote has created their own following and sound. Weather permitting, especially in the summer, their Coyote Music Den features Brenner and Castro as well as other musicians nightly or weekly, depending on the season. The duet’s sound tends to be mellow, although they can really get things moving at times.

But what really stands out is their storytelling.

Brenner introduced “Women of the Water” saying, “You’re hearing this song fresh,” meaning she had just written it.

The song tells the story of the women of Ocracoke and Hatteras Island that work the waters of the sound and Atlantic Ocean. “My Live Oak” tells the story of how an inanimate object, an old beat up oak table, held so many memories of her mother.

Not all of her compositions are ballads, though. “Sleeping with Lucky” is a riotous, if fictitious, retelling of a chance meeting with a 1980s star – the star now largely forgotten. Really making the song come alive, beyond the words, melody and beat, is Castro’s guitar work.

Much of what made the evening so enjoyable was how human and humorous everyone was on stage. This is a group of musicians that are confident and not afraid to laugh at themselves.

Introducing one of the last songs of the night, Mitchell told the audience, “This is a Beatles song that we really loved and years ago we decided to try to sing this one and it was” he pauses “. . . very painful. We worked and worked at it until we got it to where we enjoyed it,” he added.

They then broke into a pitch perfect rendition of “Because,” one of the most difficult of the Beatles’ harmonic songs. Not content, though, to simply copy the Beatles sound, the combined bands took it into an almost bluegrass feel.

A marvelous and the supremely satisfying way to end the night. Although “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie” was the finale.

There was a lot that made this night so special. This particular show was supposed to have happened back in the spring of 2020 but COVID shut it down. There was joy on stage finally performing for a live audience and it flowed throughout the audience.