The Nightingale Concert Hall in the Church Fine Arts building was packed on the night of Thursday, Feb. 27, with those awaiting the arrival of American roots musician Martha Redbone and her powerful musical experience entitled “Bone Hill: The Concert.”
Redbone was the fourth artist to appear in this season of performances for the university’s Performing Arts Series, which, on top of bringing stellar musicians to Reno, focuses on sharing them with those in the community who have limited access to the arts.
Before her performance on Thursday night, Redbone performed for students at Natchez Elementary School in Wadsworth, Nev., and also put on a show for more than 300 middle school students in the Nightingale Concert Hall.
Redbone’s big showcase on Thursday night stunned the audience with its electric energy and beautiful storytelling.
Written alongside her long-time collaborator Aaron Whitby, “Bone Hill: The Concert” journeys us through the story of Redbone’s Cherokee, Shawnee and African-American ancestry—focusing primarily on the four generations of women in her family.
Set in Black Mountain and the coal mines of Harlan County, Ky., the show highlights the family’s connection to the land and their culture despite attempts to erase them.
Including a historical perspective, “Bone Hill” touches upon the Trail of Tears along with government efforts to mistreat Native Americans and African-Americans—adding an extra element to her personal family history in Appalachia, which proves how Redbone’s story is a crucial piece of American history that is often overlooked.
“Most people don’t associate Appalachian mountain music with people of color, let alone people of color living in Appalachia,” said Redbone in a 2017 interview with Houston Press. “We thought there would be an interesting story to share with everybody, since my family had been there since the beginning of time. It’s a story that’s always been there but nobody knows.”
The show was pretty much all you could ask for in a theatrical performance. Redbone’s monologues between different parts of the story set the tone and meshed each song seamlessly into a collective narrative.
Along with providing the musical soundtrack, the band joined Redbone in reenacting scenes of her family’s life. The storyline intermixed tragedy, love and humor all into one, which made it an authentic presentation.
The musicality was simply off the charts. Bandmates Charlie Burnham, Alan Burroughs, Fred Cash, Kevin Johnson, Soni Moreno and Aaron Whitby created a lively sound—implementing elements of folk, blues, jazz, gospel and traditional Native American music. Redbone’s soulful, convincing vocals amplified the room and called for a storm of applause following each song—encouraging the audience to immerse themselves into the message of the music.
“If you feel the spirit, let it go,” said Redbone to the crowd.
It’s evident that Redbone and her collaborators created this presentation with pride and admiration, and it definitely deserved the standing ovation it received. “Bone Hill” represents the embodiment of resilience.
The last show of the 2019-2020 season of the Performing Arts Series will be on Thursday, March 12, featuring Austin, Texas band Steel Betty. For more information on the performance, check out https://www.unr.edu/pas/
Rylee Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @rybyjackson.