Saturday night, Danville's Royal Theater offered a terrific night of heartland-infused music from two Indiana singer-songwriters - Jason Wilber and Tim Grimm - who represent a folk tradition that seems pretty healthy in Central Indiana.
Wilber, the full-time guitar player for folk legend John Prine, hushed a crowd of nearly 300 at the historic theater. It was a wise move to bring along a full band that featured a sax and trumpet, drums and bass, and John Mellencamp's keyboard player Troye Kinnett, with all players finding spots to sneakily shine. Laying down a Stax-like sound on the upbeat songs, and fitting and filling in beautifully on the slow songs, Kinnett colored the night's music with piano and a gospel B3 sound.
Mixing older songs off his solo records with what he revealed as new music, Wilber was comfortable, seasoned and engaged all night. His story about sitting in Russell Square in London, on his way to, but never arriving at, a famous art museum, was typical of the evening. He remembered how he enjoyed the park in London and its surroundings far too much to leave, even for a museum he was informed he must see.
Tim Grimm and his wife Jan opened the show with 40 minutes of exquisite vocal interplay, understated and funny stories and great folk fingerpicking courtesy of Tim. He adds a bit of percussion to his strumming and pushes the songs along, while Jan's high harmonies would make Emmylou Harris smile. I'd drop him into a Lyle Lovett/Robert Earle Keen/James McMurtry mold for this night. Midway through their set, Jan pulled out a spring drum that was an evocative, rumbling success - the instrument evokes the sound of thunder - perfectly providing a unique duet to Tim's words and guitar.
The theater, built in 1927 and smartly refurbished, has the letter "R" in multiple monogram-style spots on each side of a bluish-green room color. Or that's the color I saw Saturday night, with the lights low and after a visit to the hidden jewel of the night: a tiny theater taproom offering area brews and wine.
Check out royaltheaterdanville.com for upcoming shows, including an April visit by Alejandro Escovedo, who's touring behind a fantastic album and is Springsteen-certified after the two dueted on Escovedo's "Always a Friend" at a Bruce show in 2008.