The Red Butte Garden summer concert series came to a classy close Sunday night, with Alison Krauss & Union Station delivering a lengthy set of tasteful country and bluegrass.
In fact, if I have any criticisms of Krauss and Co., it's that they're a little too tasteful. With such a talented group of players—and a witty frontwoman, as evidenced by her winning between-song banter—it would be nice to see the band truly cut loose a little more often. For the most part, though, they were content to deliver song after song of thematically dark and musically pristine slow tunes that let Krauss' voice shine.
And shine it did on a perfect Red Butte night, the half-moon hanging directly over the stage as the show began with the title track from Krauss' and Co.'s latest album, Paper Airplane. That was followed by mandolin and guitar man Dan Tyminksi's gritty "Dustbowl Children," also from the new release.
Any fans of Krauss and Union Station know that, while she is clearly the frontwoman and star of the show, the band is full of ace players who are fully capable of entrancing crowds on their own. That's certainly true of Tyminski, who provided George Clooney's singing voice in O Brother, Where Art Thou, and of dobro ace Jerry Douglas, who delivered a series of stunning solos throughout the night. All during the show, Krauss made sure to give her fellow musicians props, and Tyminski in particular had several stints on lead vocals for songs like "Man of Constant Sorrow" and "The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn."
Krauss was in fine form for her songs that were full of heartbreak and woe, in classic country tradition. "Sinking Stone" was a particularly strong performance early on, while "Sawing on the Strings" later on gave the show a jolt of energy I wish had been present more often.
And in fact, the energy seemed to rise as the show went along until a final burst of songs before the encore that included some roadhouse piano and stellar solos from Union Station.
The encore, though, proved to be the night's true highlight, rather than a simple toss-away add-on. Krauss and her band gathered around one microphone, harmonizing and picking through a series of great songs like "Whiskey Lullaby," "Your Long Journey," "Down to the River to Pray" and the show-closing "There Is a Reason." Stripped down to its simplest core, the band sounded better than it had all night, and the crowd was silent as Krauss and her boys traded a cappella verses.
It made for a great last sound and sight for the last show of the year at Utah's best music venue.