By Anita Stewart, Pittsburgh Correspondent
Mr. Small’s in Millvale, outside of Pittsburgh, PA 11/16/2019
It was a great night to see a show on a slightly frosty Saturday evening outside of Pittsburgh, PA in late Fall. This writer is a huge fan of socially conscious music and have always loved the sounds of both of these acts—they fight for everything I do, clean water, no fracking, indigenous rights, women’s rights. Both sisters, Leah Song and Chloe Smith that make up Rising Appalachia and Raye Zaragoza as a solo artist have all entertained at the resistance camps of Standing Rock. These last few shows in November wind up this leg of touring for the year with the last show in New York City. They will be off in December and resuming the tour in January with dates all over the state of Florida to promote the Leylines album, their latest recording. I connected with Raye Zaragoza’s management probably a year and a half ago when we at Sofar Sounds Tampa tried to schedule a show during a stop off weekend while she was touring with Nahko and Medicine for the People in the southeast part of the US–but the dates didn’t coincide so disappointingly, it didn’t happen.
Our first stop for the evening was to meet with friends at a cool, trendy, funky, Eastern European vegan restaurant called Apteka. WOW! Is art food or is food art? Just loved this place–full of young hipsters, old hippies and everyone in between! And speaking of art, there was no art on the walls, the surroundings were very minimalist in tones of white, black and gray metal; we figured the management was more interested in promoting the beautiful and colorful art on the plates–the food & bev certainly did not disappoint! Then we were off for pre-show coffee at B52 Cafe.
By the time we got to Mr. Smalls, the line for will call went up the steps to the box office and ended way around the corner. Mr. Small’s is a converted Catholic Church with a capacity of 800 people (612 tickets had been sold for this show, it definitely seemed more crowded then that), craft beer–Pittsburgh is all about their beer, very small bathrooms, a mezzanine and balcony seating in the back–probably where the church choir and the organ was back in the day. We went through the usual search on the way in and a check of my camera, passed the environmental groups (Concerned Ohio Valley Residents) who were tabling and petitioning in the small lobby area next to the merch tables and we were IN! This is general admission and standing only on the first level, slightly higher priced tickets for mezzanine and balcony seating. People crowded up against the stage in anticipation.
Raye Zaragoza came out and delighted everyone with her beautiful set of original folk songs, telling uplifting stories in between and engaging the crowd. Deep lyrics, harmonic hooks and she has a comfortable presence on stage. She has been named “one of the most politically relevant artist in her genre” by Paste Magazine. Her debut recording has been independently released and titled “Fight for You.” Her upcoming LP was recorded with Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, First Aid Kit) and will drop in 2020. She loves to meet her fans and after her set, she was at her merch table talking to everyone, taking pictures and selling T-shirts…”As a woman of color in America, social issues are things you deal with and see every day of your life,” she says. “I write about my experience and oftentimes my existence has been laced with injustice.”
After a short break, the two sisters of Rising Appalachia glided onto the stage and sang the opening song from the Leylines recording to start the set, the beautiful “a capella,” “I Believe in Being Ready” in perfect harmony and pitch. I was singing along while shooting photos and was ready to go to church–it really could happen–and then realized–damn! I am already in one! The best way to describe their genre as it can’t be defined by just a few words is a blend of all of these: Southern roots, Americana, jazz, African and Eastern rhythms, hip-hop, world-beat and folk, jazz, soul, gospel, bluegrass, country rock even a bit of reggae and folk as well. Instruments played live were upright bass, all kinds of drums and percussion, fiddles, guitars, banjos, an African Kore, and it seemed like everyone on stage could switch out and play just about anything. Current band members are:
- Leah Song – vocals, poetics, banjo, kalimba, fiddle, boudhran, and tinky percussive things
- Chloe Smith – vocals, fiddle, banjo, washboard, kalimba, and percussion
- Imhotep – traditional New Orleans bass drum, m’bala, djembe, and West African percussion
- Biko Casini – djembe, congas, and percussion
- David Brown – guitar and double bass
- Abram Racin – double bass
- Forrest Kelly – beat box, hand percussion, and fire spinning
About the Leylines recording “Rising Appalachia has come out of this idea that we can take these traditions of southern music–that we’ve been born and raised with–and we can rise out of them, creating all these different bridges between cultures and stories to make them feel alive.” Leah says. “Our music has its foundation in heritage and tradition, but we’re creating a music that also feels reflective of the times right now. That’s always been our work.” Guests on the recording are famed songwriters: the greats Ani DiFranco and Trevor Hall and jazz trumpeter, Maurice Turner. The band covered a myriad of songs during this show from all of their releases including “Resilient,” “Harmonize,” and their encore was “Medicine” an enthusiastic favorite by the fans. Love, love, love this band…a must see! Check out their site for upcoming tour info HERE.