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Berklee celebrates decade of American roots

Berklee Performance Center, Boston, March 12, 2019

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Ten years on, the American Roots Music Program at Berklee College of Music has produced the likes of Molly Tuttle, Sierra Hull, Lonely Heartstring Band and Twisted Pine.

Not bad for a nascent program. But just as it was no surprise that anything less than that would have been expected from such a fine school, the celebration of the anniversary with a concert offered a steady stream of well-done music that did Berklee proud.

Perhaps none more so than Tuttle, who last year became the first woman ever to win the International Bluegrass Music Association's Guitarist of the Year.

Tuttle received a significant amount of face time, performing in a variety of configurations including with Hull as a duo (Hull, a fine mandolinist in her own right, talked about having wanted to perform with her friend as a duo for a long time), as a trio with The Goodbye Girls and more.

Tuttle was certainly nimble fingered with her acoustic guitar playing, but did not need to resort to histrionics. A low-key personality, that certainly would never have been her style.

One was left with the distinct sense based on her playing and singing that Tuttle will make Berklee ever prouder.

Hull, who said she was happy to be back at her college stomping grounds, also had the chance to showcase her considerable skills in a few configurations as well.

Most of the performers had the chance to sing three songs. Whoever was the event organizer deserved a lot of credit for keeping the three-hour concert moving with very little downtime. That was quite a feat given the amount of performers.

While the night incorporated blues, Celtic, country, gospel, old time, spirituals, Scottish (okay, that's not American) and more, the dominant sound was bluegrass-based with the acoustic music leanings not far behind.

Donna McElroy and the Jubilee Spirit Ensemble kick started the evening with gospel-based a capella songs.

The Lonely Heartstring Band, which just put out its second Rounder release last month, acquitted itself well during its stint with lead singer George Clements particularly standing out.

So did bands Mile Twelve and Twisted Pine. Molsky's Mountain Drifters, led by the spirited Bruce Molsky, also turned in an engaging stint.

Veteran area performers Paul Rishell and Annie Raines put their stamp on the blues.

With a variety of performers, the one constant was the high quality displayed by musician after musician throughout the night.

That came through yet again in the closing, hopeful ensemble number - "There is More Love Somewhere," an African American spiritual - with the program's Artistic Director Matt Glaser guiding the song on piano with current Berklee students also featured.

This was a case of not only paying homage to the musicians, but the school that helped put them where they are. One decade on, Berklee has a lot to be proud of. This celebration only underscored that.