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Review: Saxton's Cornet band re-creates a bygone era

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At first blush, the notion of sitting through a two-hour concert of Civil War-era songs played by a 12-piece brass band using antique instruments would be a hard sell even if it wasn't a Charleston Community Music Association show.

A respectable crowd came out to the Geary Auditorium on Sunday afternoon at the University of Charleston to catch the Kentucky-based Saxton's Cornet Band, but it looked like pretty much just the regular supporters and few people under the age of 60.

For years, the Charleston Community Music Association has struggled to try to appeal to a broader audience while still serving the people who've faithfully turned up decade after decade for shows.

It's hard to say if Saxton's Cornet Band was really something that could appeal to a mass audience, but it was little different than some of the easy-to-digest, beautiful music stuff they're sort of famous for.

Saxton's Cornet Band was odd. The band came out on stage in period dress. The emcee addressed the crowd and joked as if the auditorium had somehow been transported to 1864. They were a little campy, but not overly so and the band played vintage Americana.

These days, Americana often refers to roots music like folk, blues and bluegrass, as well as kind of earnest, honest style.

Saxton's Cornet Band played no bluegrass, no blues and no jazz. There were no strings, just a collection of brass instruments and a pair of simple drums. They played marches, reworked opera songs and patriotic tunes from both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line: American pop tunes of the 1800s, some of which evolved into folk music.

Still, fans of bands of the current Americana genre, fans of bands that at least sort of nod at the musical fashion of a bygone era, might have appreciated the novelty of seeing a re-creation of that bygone era.

Unfortunately, modern music fans and most people under the age of retirement gave this one, like they give most Community Music shows, a wide berth, which is too bad. Community Music really is trying to reach out. They were even selling beer outside.

It was a pretty good show for an early spring afternoon, though the show went on a bit long. Two hours of Civil War-era songs performed with antique (and out of circulation) instruments was a bit much on the ear, even with the intermission. The band sounded wonderful, but song after song full of warm, brass tones has the tendency to lull people to sleep.

I saw couples nodding off in the third and fourth rows.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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