The Mighty Pines showcase their bluegrass roots at the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival

Despite being cut short due to the weather, The Mighty Pines, former King of the Roots winners, put on an engaging performance with elements of soul, blues and bluegrass.

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The Mighty Pines took to Roots N Blues N BBQ’s Great Southern Bank stage against the wind and beneath a threatening gray sky. Although a weather delay would cut their set short, the band brought its own sunshine with an upbeat selection from its bluegrass, blues and Americana-influenced repertoire.

Despite the weather, the Pines’ excitement was palpable from the beginning as playing at Roots N Blues signified a homecoming for the group in more ways than one. As explained by frontman and guitarist Neil Salsich and mandolin player Gerard Erker, three members had gone to college in Kirksville, Missouri, and had even recorded an album here in Columbia. Last year, the band was awarded the “King of the Roots” gig at the festival, a far cry from being in the crowd for the festival during their college days.

Erker paid homage to not only Columbia and Roots N Blues but also thanked all the hardworking farmers before launching into their 2018 single, “Farmer Song.”

With another new single released on Sept. 20, four albums under their belts and another on the way, the bandmates had no shortage of material for their set. Their soul, roots and bluegrass twinges shone through the layering of a low walking bassline and earthy guitar topped off with bright mandolin riffs. Salsich, Erker and bassist John Hussung missed no opportunity to display their tight three-part vocal harmonies.

Much like their voices, Salsich and Erker’s mandolin and guitar playing remained intertwined throughout — crafting a rich sound that rippled through the crowd. People were dancing, tapping their feet and nodding along. Although the standing crowd was thin at first, it swelled toward the middle of the set and continued to grow throughout. This was no accident — it was obvious that The Pines are consummate performers, attuned to their audience’s every move. The setlist was well organized, with their loudest and catchiest material first to establish the audience’s interest before introducing their softer and slower songs. The crowd was visibly invested in each ebb and flow of their set, swaying along beneath spatterings of raindrops.

Halfway through their set, The Pines announced they would be playing a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses.” I tensed up initially, as I’m generally a believer in the sentiment that the original version of a song is always the best. I see no point in covering a song unless they take the original song in a radical new direction.

However, The Pines’ cover of “Wild Horses” far surpassed my personal threshold for a good — even great — cover song. Rather than be constrained by the Stones’ version, they used it as a vehicle for showcasing their originality. Salsich and Erker each improvised over the chords for a number of measures while Hussung’s bass poked through more prominently than in songs previous. Through an uptick in tempo and time signature change, complete with their unique instrumentation, “Wild Horses” became something uniquely belonging to The Mighty Pines. As a Stones fan, I was impressed — they brought a classic to the brink of unfamiliarity and it stood on its own two feet.

Their last song, “Snow Falls Down,” began with a stripped down a cappella rendition of the first verse before the bass and drums jumped in on the second verse to propel the melody to a “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”-style energy. This escalation was cut short, however, as the sound system was turned down and the band members looked at each other in confusion. An organizer of the event emerged from the side of the stage and announced that their set would have to be cut short due to concerns over the weather.

Although The Pines couldn’t, other pockets of musicians kept the music of Roots N Blues alive as I traced my way out of the festival.

Edited by Janae McKenzie | jmckenzie@themaneater.com

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