Jolie Holland & Samantha Parton at the Biltmore

February 21, 2016
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For those who were listening, Jolie Holland and Samantha Parton put on a great show at the Biltmore

Jolie Holland and Samantha Parton, two original members of Vancouver’s beloved folk trio, Be Good Tanyas are about to take the stage at the Biltmore Cabaret. This will be one of Samantha Parton’s first shows in Vancouver since she was injured in two accidents in 2012 and 2013, triggering an aneurysm behind her left eye, and leaving her with extensive nerve damage.

“I put this band together and asked whether [Sam Parton] wanted to do it. I just wanted to get the most brilliant, New York City sidemen kind of people, people that really know how to follow a song intuitively,” says Jolie Holland. “I feel like very few people know that I was involved with starting the Be Good Tanyas. Since Sam had her accident, it has been really crazy. She’s got some nerve problems but she’s in such good spirits.”

The room contains hints of the smell of bleach and we’re surrounded by deep red yonic wallpaper, art deco scalloped furniture and the unmistakable sound of sports-bar TV. It’s Sunday night, February 21, at the Biltmore Cabaret. People start to trickle in, filling in the cracks and corners of the room. It’s not your typical Biltmore concert, perhaps because the college crowd is preparing for a bright and early Monday morning, but more likely due to the fact that an evening of soft roots and folk attracts an older demographic.

“I just wanted to bring people along that would be total professionals, that would be really supportive musically,” says Holland. “Stevie, [a singer and guitarist in the band,] is an incredible pleasure to work with, and a great harmony singer, a great singer period, but an awesome harmony singer. Sam, that’s one of her things. She’s a kick-ass harmony singer. It’s really cool to get birds of a feather together. The other thing I wanted for the band is total sweetness and good humour.”

Holland drops some impressive names. Their opening act, Jared Samuels of the Invisible Familiars, who also does vocals in the Holland/Parton band, has played with go-to brass accompanists for artists like Lou Reid, Lee Von Helm, and Steely Dan. He has a little trouble getting his vintage guitar in tune to start the show – a common problem in February, when both the temperature and humidity can be wildly inconsistent,. He seems a little troubled by the fact that the audience is taking their sweet time getting on the dance floor.

Holland and Parton pull together an impressive set, showcasing flawless four-part harmonies, roots electric, an interlude on the miniature harmonium, and Holland’s enchanting Nightingale whistle. Parton leads the audience through some Vancouver lore, explaining the origins of her mandolin – a $125 thrift store find (made in Vancouver) that out-performed the top-of-the-line Martins sold at Rufus Guitars. Much like their sister-group, The Be Good Tanyas, the group’s most well-received songs were innovative covers. Their rendition of Dylan and The Band’s “Who’s Going To Throw That Minstrel Boy a Coin,” originally in The Basement Tapes album, was a particular favourite.

Unfortunately, there was an obvious blemish in the room: the audience. The etiquette of respectfully watching a quieter genre of music had clearly escaped a portion of the crowd, and despite multiple requests from the musicians themselves, several tables near the back couldn’t bring themselves to speak at a volume lower than a dull roar during the entire show. Young Vancouverites take a lot of heat for being self-absorbed, but the hollering presence in the room didn’t contain a soul under 50.

“I don’t want to say bad things about your city, but that was one of the hardest shows I’ve ever played,” said Samuels when I spoke with him during the intermission. He signed my record, “Thanks for listening closer than most.”

Holland and Parton are considering putting together an album in the upcoming year. If it’s anything like Holland’s 2014 album, Wine Dark Sea, it’ll be worth purchasing. However, despite the fact that Parton lives on Vancouver’s east side, it wouldn’t surprise me if this show leaves a bad taste in the performers’ mouths and they pass us over the next time they tour. We can do better, Vancouver. Let’s get our shit together.