Session Americana in Napa.
It was turning out to be a beautiful day in the Napa Valley. The sunshine glinted off the vineyards as we wound our way through the golden hills, slowly making our way to Yountville. More specifically making our way to Robert Sinskey Winery, a gorgeous secluded place, nestled in the hills of the illustrious Napa Valley.
It was an impromptu affair, a private “Fete” put on by Mr. Sinskey himself to celebrate food, wine and his love for the music of Session Americana, a soulful, folky band of eclectic musicians. Kind of like an insanely talented, blues version of the misfit toys.
Entering the gorgeous tasting room, named by Sunset Magazine as the Tasting Room of the Year, lit by candlelight and the gracious, smiling faces of the staff, I had a feeling we were in for some kind of fantastical night. With a glass of a cold, rose-colored Vin Gris in hand, we made our way out to the back patio where the tables for the evening were placed. 6 tables, around the perimeter of the patio space, surrounding a jumble of 6 chairs, a few pillows, a table and a microphone. Well, that’s certainly an interesting setup for a band, I thought.
I had no idea what we were in store for.
After a ridiculously, gut-busting meal from the Sinskey kitchen, complete with pulled pork, smothered kale and gourmet whoopee pies, we were all sufficiently over-sated. We had the privilege of dining at the band’s table, an experience which could only be explained as “unique”. Listening to their crazy banter, their wild stories and realizing how many years of musical talent sat at that table… I was awed.
After an introduction from our gracious host, the six members of the band made their way to the jumble of chairs and tables in the middle of the patio. The sun was setting over the hills of Napa, casting a golden hue over all as I settled back into my chair with a glass of RSV’s Pinot and waited for… well I wasn’t sure what. They tuned up, facing each other and never the audience around them, passing quips back and forth like old friends. Which they are. A Boston band, they came together 10 years ago after an impromptu jam session in a bar in Cambridge, MA. Since then, they have exploded onto the New England music scene and become an institution, playing in coffee houses, music festivals, winning multiple awards and even traveling to Ireland to play the Galway Music Festival.
This evening, only part of the original gang was there. Dinty Child, Jefferson Hamer, Jim Fitting and Billy Beard, all music veterans in their own right, came out to play a West Coast tour with fiddler and vocalist Laura Cortese and Miracle Parade, aka Christopher Pappas on bass.
From the minute the first instrument was played, we were transported. A rough and tumble mix of harmonica, fiddle, guitar, pump organ, mandolin, and insanely good vocals took us from old school blues to folk music, from old standards to covers of the greats like Bob Dylan. It was incredible. They laughed, they traded stories, they even swapped instruments and seats. It was musical madness. And a whole lot of fun.
Listening to Jim Fitting, one of the world’s top harmonica players, play and sing the lead on “Water Never Runs Up Hill” was a fun, riotous experience, with every one of the 30 or so people in the audience clapping, yelling and tapping their toes to the beat. The same thing happened during, “Ice Cream Man” and “Beer Town“, one an old blues standard and another a Session Americana original.
The addition of Laura Cortese, a tremendous fiddler with a voice somewhere in the middle of Emmy Lou Harris and Natalie Maines, brought the crowd to its feet. She was sweetness and light, fire and brimstone all mixed into one delightful music experience and a perfect addition to this seasoned group of musicians.
I was stunned by the whole evening. I was filled to the brim with fabulous wine and incredible food, as well as the artistry of the soulful, crazy but always skillful acoustic harmony of Session Americana.
With their west coast tour finished, the only way to catch this group of performers together is to see them in their native New England or to tune into their amazing albums. Diving for Gold, Session Americana Live or Beer Town: The Table Top Collection Volume 3 are all great ways to capture the magic of the music that is Session Americana.
Disclosure: On occasion, contributors of The Trend Tribe receive products, compensation and/or services gratis or at discounted rates. This practice does not influence the contributor’s point of view or the outcome of the review. All descriptions are factual and accurately reflect the reviewers experience. The opinions are their own. Photos credits: Robert Sinskey Winery and Session Americana.