Well, it wasn’t literally lightning. Something happened, however. Wendi and I had arrived moments before. I knew my buddy, Glenn would want to open up his day with one of the Tango’s signature old fashioneds, and speaking honestly, I wanted the same. So Wendi and I waited, and we turned to the tent.
Several different things about Oldfield and the New Birds impressed me as I watched. Right away, you’re mesmerized by the three-part female harmony standing “stage right” of the band’s eponymous front man, Codi Oldfield. They delivered a vocally dazzling effort. Oldfield, working his six-string as he belted a set of vocals ranging from a high ring to a sandpapered growl. Masked behind a pair of shades and a good seven pounds of facial hair, Oldfield alone put up a captivating scene.
Those aforementioned harmonizing efforts from Stephanie Fisher, Kayla Cange (who’s accordion work sort of “dots the i” when it comes to an Oldfield gig), and Oldfield’s wife Jessica weave a vocal curtain which walls off anything else happening on the nearby stages. The added effects of Mickey Markley’s guitar work, Stuart Godfrey’s bass, and Aaron Fisher at the drum set completed the package. I was entranced. The old fashioned I craved had frittered from my thoughts.
Some three or four songs into the set, the real magic went down. Thanks to an overloaded breaker (somewhere) the Tango stage’s soundboard crashed. Deep in their groove, it took Oldfield and company and second to realize their tune had “gone instant A cappella.” For another moment all of us stood awkwardly—a distorted cross between a Mexican standoff and a silent cocktail party.
Seconds passed. Then, as if it were rehearsed as part of the set, The New Birds swapped their electric strings for their trusty “porch versions.” Oldfield, banjo in tow, walked out from the tent and met us under the sun in the middle of the Tango’s parking lot. There, after a quick counting cue, Mr. and Mrs. Oldfield joined the others and serenaded us with one of the most moving and evocative songs of the entire festival. As I weaved my way from one stage to the next the rest of that day, I never shook those five minutes out of my head.
Since that gig, I have looked for that band. Their digital footprint is bit obscure. One damn good tune sits on their Bandcamp site, but they have no Spotify or iTunes presence. I suppose my first reaction is a quick “Why?” My hands tossed above my head for good measure. But I think I get “why.” I remember when Red Wanting Blue’s Scott Terry talked about the “two streams” in the music industry. When I look at a band like Oldfield and the New Birds…I realize there are more than two streams.
According to Terry, “stream one” consists of all those names you see on TV…worthy or not. They’re the acts so efficiently backed by what passes for record labels, that all their marketing (and all their funding) is taken care of for them. Terry argues—and I agree with him—that his band sits in the second stream. These are groups like his, and Stephen Kellogg, and Fort Frances, and The Alternate Routes. Great musical acts with national faces, but sort of existing in that second tier in the touring world (think Major Leagues versus Triple-A for another example).
Oldfield’s band reminds me that there are many other streams…many other “leagues”…in the modern music landscape. When I look at the makeup of the band: seven pieces, I can see why what they do demands an exacting level of passion. Seven people headquartered in Muncie. They have families. Jobs. Kids. Yards to mow. Little league games to attend. Life. I have always understood why bands who work their asses off in what I’m now calling that “fifth stream” do so as duos or solo acts—there are simply too many moving parts to make it work otherwise.
I hope those guys are still at it. I hope what I saw first-hand can be replicated. And I really hope they put together a record. Because for the last eight months I have been trying like hell to mentally bottle up that magic I watched in front of that Tango tent.