Evan Levine and String Band at the Spotty Dog

If you ever saw a bearded fellow playing ukulele or guitar while strolling up Warren Street in Hudson, NY, that would have been Evan Levine. He moved to PA last year, however, and ever since there has been a void in both the music scene and the personality of Hudson. That void is still present, but a clean-shaven Evan helped fill it a small bit by returning to the town to play a show at The Spotty Dog this past Saturday, along with a Vermont-based band called String Band.

Evan has a big personality. He exudes a warmth of spirit that lights up a room and has a hearty belly laugh that he lets rip frequently, uninhibited and with robust enthusiasm. These characteristics stream into his music, evoking in the old-time swing and blues the character that the original musicians playing it would have most certainly had. Evan tells me that he sometimes gets so taken with playing that he becomes faint, and he frequently develops bruises underneath his fingernails from playing so hard. While I would hate to see the fellow pass out during a show, it is because he puts so much into the music that listeners get so much out of it. Although an unseen force, the energy and passion of Evan’s personality and playing spreads out from his heart like a net, catching everyone around him and filling them with a sense of familiararity and ease. Between playing old standards such as “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby,” “Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor,” and “Dinah,” Evan joked with those standing or sitting on stools and on the floor, talking to those he knew and those he didn’t alike with the same sense of comaraderie. He was also joined by a local musician, Stuart Quimby — an impressive flutist with keen improvisational skills — for “Honeysuckle Rose” and the Depression-era “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime.”

String Band went on next, playing an assortment of folk, blues, and country tunes. Although the band is comprised of only two musicians — Sam Moss and Jackson Emmer — they played quite a surprising number of stringed instruments, rotating between banjo, guitar, mandolin, and fiddle. Between the warm sounds of these stringed instruments and the hearty vocals, this is music that makes your spirit feel restored. A few highlights of their set were “John The Revelator” (a favorite song of mine), a beautiful rendition of “Shady Grove,” and an old blues song called “Salty Dog,” which Evan joined in on. The band also played a fun song called “Jug Band Music,” preceding the song with an explanation of what jug bands are for anyone in the audience who didn’t know. The Spotty Dog is actually a bar and bookstore, and during the explanation of jug bands one thing led to another, ending with the musicians requesting an empty growler from the bartenders. Evan proceeded to play the growler as one would a jug as the musicians finally launched into the song. After that the band played what they said is a great square dance song, and the wildest scene I have ever witnessed at The Spotty Dog took place.

A spontaneous contra dance took shape.

There were some dancers in the audience who joined together and called out steps like “alamand,” “do-si-do,” and “swing your partner,” and even when the song ended and the next began the dancing continued. By the end of the night nearly everyone in the room had joined in, and the audience’s collective intention seemed to be to break the floorboards with their stomping. At one point the dancers lined up and made a bridge with their arms, taking turns going under it, and even String Band member Jackson Emmer joined the fun, working his way under the bridge while continuing to play banjo as both Sam and Evan played guitar. It was then that the vacant fiddle was taken up by another local musician in attendance — a friend of Evan’s named Max — making a quartet for the last few songs of the night. The entire concert was honestly slightly surreal and one of those experiences that can never be replicated. It was amazing while it lasted, however, and for those privileged to be there the memory of the night is one that will always remain.

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