Concert Review: Richard Thompson & Friends in Woodstock, NY

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Although Richard Thompson was the headliner on Friday night at The Bearsville Theater in Woodstock, New York, the show was more like a big reunion. The first half of the evening featured some of the leading lights of the Woodstock folk scene performing in front of a rapt audience of locals. There was also the Thompson family reunion, as Richard, two sons, and even a nephew took charge in the second half of the show.

All of the evening’s performers were part of a guitar camp that Richard Thompson hosted in the Catskill Mountains, and several audience members were attendees of that camp. As a result, it was an interesting show in that there were few apparent barriers between the performers and their audience, a feeling exacerbated by the intimate nature of the venue.

Sloan Wainwright, Happy Traum, and Martin Simpson carried the load for the first part of the show. They performed an obligatory mix of covers and originals, and the nostalgia they brought to the table was undeniable. Still, it was all a little polite; even when Traum was joined by John Sebastian on harmonica for a take on his old buddy Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” the two veterans mustered reverence for the track when a little irreverence might have gone a long way.

The second half of the night was immediately jolted to life by Teddy Thompson, who brought wiry energy and plentiful hooks along with his acoustic guitar, enlivening the audience just a few bars into his opening track. Teddy has a powerful, cutting voice and songwriting chops galore. He was only on stage for four songs, but in that time he showed exactly why he deserves a much wider audience.

It was closing in on 11PM ET when Richard Thompson hit the stage, but any worries about a tired audience were quickly dispelled when he tore into the bittersweet glory of “I Misunderstood.” Thompson dipped briefly into the Fairport Convention catalog, but he mostly stuck to his solo work of the past few decades as well as a couple fine offerings from his most recent release, Electric. The new ones fit among the classics seamlessly: Ballad “Saving The Good Stuff For You” was a real honeydripper, while “Good Things Happen To Bad People” was feisty and fine.

Of course, Thompson’s guitar wizardry was on display on every track. He somehow makes his acoustic sound like an entire band, mixing tripping folk melodies with sudden blasts of staccato rock power. His blistering take on “Valerie” gained an explosive ovation. And when he performed “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” well, it goes without saying that it was a knockout.

Late in the evening, Thompson brought out the whole clan: sons Jack and Teddy on bass and guitar, with nephew Zak Hobbs and honorary family member Sebastian filling out the lineup. The quintet tore through a stunningly vibrant version of “The Price Of Love,” taking an Everly Brothers oldie and making it sound like their newest release. Gentle nostalgia is fine now and again, but Richard Thompson’s performance in Woodstock demonstrated that he’s charging relentlessly ahead even when he takes a quick look back.