The Old Church in Perkins, OK, began it’s life as a small chapel nestled on a very quiet street in this quaint town. It has become a must attend venue for people in this part of the state. Originally known as the Methodist Episcopal Church, built in 1892, the building made its final destination and resting place at the Oklahoma Territorial Plaza. Sitting lifeless for years, the church had been forgotten by many and had become a tourist attraction.
Jump forward to 2010, when Monica Taylor, referred to as The Cimarron Songbird, agreed to be hostess to a series of concerts in the old building. When she took on the task, life was once again breathed into the century-plus aged building, as the Cimarron Breeze Concert Series began.
It took a lot of self perseverance, (with a whole lot of help from the community) but the “Songbird,” Taylor, gave the old church wings to soar into one of the best venues north of Oklahoma City.
July 3, I was “taken to church” for a “pick up gig,” which was hosted by Taylor. You might be asking, what is a “ pick up gig?” Taylor had been known to host house concerts on her front lawn, and often in her own home, to musicians who were traveling and needed a place to perform on the way to their next show.
The Hard Road Trio, from Las Cruces NM, were traveling through Oklahoma headed to The Frankfort Bluegrass Festival, in Frankfort IL on July 7. They picked up two gigs in Perkins, Sunday morning, performing at the Cowboy Church, and a gig, Monday, that left the audience standing in appreciation of excellent bluegrass music at the church.
The Trio, consists of founder, Steve Smith, Chris Sanders, and Anne Luna. This group offers a crossroads of roots and bluegrass music, with beautiful harmonies, astoundingly talented instrumentalists, and the ability to write original songs.
Virginia native, Steve Smith, cut his teeth on bluegrass music. Married with children, Smith has made his home in Las Cruces for 32 years. Donning three hats in this trio, Smith plays the mandolin, performs vocals, and writes. However, this just skims the surface as Smith is also a bluegrass educator, serving for over 16 years on the faculty at Camp Bluegrass. A fully rounded musician and producer, Steve has played the symphony, musical theater (musician, actor, vocalist), composer (Curse of The Starving Glass) and toured coast to coast, internationally, and locally. He has appeared on over 30 albums. To name a few of the people he has accompanied: Jim Hurst, Alan Munde, Bill Evans, Mitch Perry, and Tim O‘brien. His talents have been heard across the television waves on the Weather Channel, and Discovery channel.
Chris Sanders, a Minnesotan transplant to Las Cruces, has been deeply rooted in music for her entire life. She holds a BA in Music Education (minor in French), as well as a MA in vocal performance. Married to a former golf pro, and mother of two grown sons (a golfer, following in Dad’s footsteps, and one guitarist turned urban developer), after a stint with a jazz group that disbanded about 14 years ago, Sanders made a wish. A wish that she could go on tour. Six months later, Steve Smith called her and asked her to go on tour with him. VOILA! Her wish came true. She has entertained singly, in a duet and with a trio. Chris also wears three hats, singing, composing, and playing acoustic guitar.
Anne Luna, Portales, NM resident, grew up in a musical family. Attending Texas Tech and obtaining a degree in Biology, Luna also studied classical bass techniques. In 2004, Anne obtained an AA in commercial music, and was honored by being pinned with the title of Female Instrumentalist for 2 years in a row. She has recorded with Alan Munde and Amanda Shires, as well as Kenny Maines. Performing with multiple bluegrass bands (The Spring Creek Bluegrass band, Doctor Skoob & The Acoustic Groove, The April Verch Band, Hot Foot Toby) paved the way to accommodate her position in The Hard Road Trio.
Monica Taylor started the evening off with a few songs, accompanied by Marco Tello (OKC) on guitar, Anne Luna on bass, and Kyle Dillingham on fiddle. Taylor, a Perkins, OK native, is most known for her Emmylou Harris-style singing voice. However, her roots are on the farm, which is the epicenter of RED DIRT. She was given the nickname of Cimarron Songbird by Jimmy Lafave and Bob Childers because of her unique singing style, and the fact that she grew up near the Cimarron River. Monica sings from the heart, telling stories of red dirt roads, home, fence posts and her Cherokee Indian heritage as well as her Scottish roots. Taylor left her audience hungering for more of her sweet tone.
World-renowned fiddle player, Kyle Dillingham also performed a French song. The audience was star-struck with the ease that Dillingham showed, not only in sawing on his fiddle, but also, in the romance of the French language. Kyle and his energy-filled performance, his stage presence and his playing style left the audience with their mouths wide open. In fact, I even heard some WOWS! whispered. Joe Baxter, (songwriter, vocals, and acoustic guitar) and Andrea MacMullin (fiddle), also graced the stage. Both Baxter and MacMullin reside in the state of Oklahoma. Their styles hint of folk music, with a flare of Red Dirt, but their roots are bound in bluegrass.
The Hard Road Trio set the stage on fire from the moment they stepped up to the microphones. The mandolin, as we all know, is one of the core instruments in bluegrass music. Smith picks his and captivates the playing of three roles (backup and fill, rhythm, and breaks, kickoffs and endings) with the easiest style. Steve Smith’s vocals and original tunes literally had you visualizing the scene as the words were crooned. During one number, Smith played an octave mandolin.
Sanders on the acoustic guitar was absolutely a “hoss”. Her transitions were super smooth, her voice and harmonies were super true. Sanders sang a new song, Spin Me Around (yet to be released) and the emotion was so thick you could cut if with a knife.
Anne Luna makes playing the bass look easy. Her instrument is bigger than she is; Anne jokingly stated, “ I could curl up in my bass case, and save on hotel rooms.” As Luna plucks her notes on the bass, she also shows the talent of an extraordinaire writer. “She even bows!” Dillingham whispered, to yet another bluegrass musician, Steve Short ( drummer for Byron Berline).
As the night began to wind down, a true to Oklahoma thunderstorm blew in. Joe Baxter began what turned out to be an all together jam session, with every musician participating. As the music played, and the resounding thunder boomed, almost in unison, we were “just getting through the storm”. Getting through the storm with a little bluegrass music!
As I was making the trek back home, still amidst the storm, I thought… wow! What a magical evening!
Bravo and hats off to The Hard Road Trio.