I went to see Ordo Sakhna last Saturday and an AppalAsia concert broke out.
My first trip to Lawrenceville's restaurant/coffeehouse was to hear Ordo Sakhna, a troupe of professional musicians from Kyrgyzstan. The group is dedicated to preserving the culture of that country's traditional nomadic way of life, but travel away from the plains of Central Asia can get complicated, too: Concert attendees arrived to learn that the troupe's U.S. tour had been held up by visa troubles.
But the show (in this case, a show promoted by CP contributor Manny Theiner) went on. The local trio called AppalAsia expanded its performance from an opening set to an evening-length performance.
That development significantly muted any disappointment. In fact, it seemed that few folks took the full refund that was offered, opting for a half-refund and the AppalAsia show.
AppalAsia creates its own traditions by blending American string-band instrumentation (banjo and mountain dulcimer, usually) with the erhu, a two-stringed Chinese violin whose keening wail you've heard if you've ever seen a period film about China. The group's been around a few years, playing in clubs, the lobby of PSO concerts, and recently at First Night. But for many (including me), this was the first chance to see it in a nonsupporting role.
Though many of its songs are based on folk classics either Chinese and American, all AppalAsia's songs are "original" in the sense that noone's ever played them before. The percussive runs on Sue Powers' banjo blend beautifully with the earthy airs Mimi Jong's bow draws from her erhu and the throatier rhythms of Jeff Berman's dulcimer. Most of the songs are instrumental, though Powers (who plays with Berman in American roots group Devilish Mary) and Jong sometimes contribute vocals. (AppalAsia next performs this Fri., Jan. 22, at Club Café with The Newlanders).
It didn't hurt that the concert took place in Istanbul, the Middle Eastern themed venue that formerly housed Your Inner Vagabond. While diners sat out in the front of this Butler Street establishment, behind the curtain at rear there opened up a surprisingly large, high-ceilinged room, furnished with low upholstered seats and pillows. Many people simply sat on the floor; some had food from the restaurant, and many did BYOB. All in all, a cozy affair, like seeing a concert in your living room with a group of 100 or so friends and agreeable strangers.