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Core Samples

Jay Meehan, Record columnist

As one who spends probably more time in concert lines than most other musically-neurotic members of my species, there always seems to be one of those "can’t miss" shows coming up on the calendar.

Oftentimes these events feature stars of the first magnitude, and that’s OK. But in my case, as often as not, it is the light from lesser stellar objects that causes my anticipation levels to redline. Not unlike astronomers stumbling upon a dark filament in a molecular cloud, we contemporary music buffs oftentimes find ourselves, through little forethought of our own, coming upon either a recording or live act that, although not yet included on the cosmological charts, affords a brilliance beyond its fame.

Such was the case when Teri Orr and the Park City Performing Arts Foundation included the then mostly unknown Ryan Bingham on their Eccles Center schedule a while back.

The convoluted logistical accident that brought me to the stage in question that evening involved a designated driver with whom I would be attending a show at the Beaver Creek Inn out along Mirror Lake Highway and her decision to take in Bingham’s concert at the Eccles before heading out Kamas way.

Suffice to say that the musical power of a rough-hewn and lanky ex-bull rider with a guitar and a few dozen songs in his quiver worked its magic that night. The immense talent of Ryan Bingham, who had played Park City previously when he opened for Reckless Kelly at the now-defunct Suede club, would no longer be able to sneak up on anybody.

This became even more evident when he (and his band) were cast in the brilliant Jeff Bridges vehicle "Crazy Heart" and, once all the honky-tonk haze had cleared, found himself, along with collaborator T-Bone Burnett, the winner of both the Golden Globe and Oscar for "The Weary Kind," the film’s haunting theme song.

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His stock was rising. There was a buzz about the dude. He was in danger of becoming say it ain’t so a brand. Well, not to worry. Ryan Bingham didn’t don a "Nudie suit" or grab a posse of Nashville studio cats with a horn section when time came to record his third album.

In fact, on "Junky Star," it’s just Bingham and his longtime band, The Dead Horses, along with his newfound compadre T-Bone Burnett — whose basic function as producer was to just keep things simple and uncluttered. They might have cut the tracks in three days but, no doubt, we’re going to be talking about them for years.

He cuts to the chase, Ryan Bingham does, with songs that are pretty much laid out bare with an art that confronts the comfortable both musically and philosophically. He’s not about crafting sing-a-long refrains that lend themselves to hit records, although there were those among the crowd at the Eccles Center who quoted his lyrical riffs with a reverence usually associated with Hank Williams.

So I must admit that, with the Park City Performing Arts Foundation bringing Ryan Bingham and The Dead Horses back to Park City to headline a Labor Day concert at Deer Valley on Monday, September 6, my anticipation index is very much approaching the red zone.

Admittedly, it would be enough if Bingham and the boys were doing that thing they do with no one else on the bill but, as is often their wont, Teri and the PCPAF have gathered together two other quite singular acts to embellish the whole. There’s something enthralling about performing artists who aren’t touring together getting the opportunity to dig the eclecticism of each other’s schtick.

Crooked Still is an act I’ve wanted to see live for quite a spell, and not just because I’m somewhat smitten with lead singer Aoife O’Donavan’s vocal stylings. Yet another of those groups shoved under the umbrella-term "new grass," their modern and highly unique takes on folk, country, and bluegrass are about respectfully evolving the forms to best reflect the individuality of both themselves and their times. "As cool and hip as all get out" is what they are.

I also can’t wait to see what Sara Watkins has been up to with her solo career since the prodigy-rich Nickel Creek split up. As I was unable to catch her guest spot with Garrison Keillor when the Prairie Home Companion tour blew through Utah recently, it’ll be fun to see her in action at Deer Valley come Labor Day as part of that great lineup with Ryan Bingham and Crooked Still. This is definitely a "can’t miss!"

Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.