“Would you care to pray with us?” asks a member of the band. Stunned, the confused local radio announcer suddenly tries to look busy and excuses himself from the group’s pre-performance tradition. And if this backstage encounter was unexpected, the audience, too, was about to witness some unlooked-for turns from the six brothers of the Clark Family Experience.
Opening with a frenetic, psychedelic arrangement of “Crossroads”, the Clarks dispelled any notion that they are a typical brother or family act. The ‘ancient tones’ their name suggests is certainly one important part of the group’s sound. Yet the heart of the Clarks’ diversity and appeal lies in their well-balanced combination of traditional, gospel, bluegrass, and rock elements. The group’s eldest member (at 27) is frontman & acoustic guitarist Alan Clark. He proudly stresses that the boys’ father taught them all to pick, and played them a steady diet of Louvin Brothers and Merle Haggard records.
The Clarks drew well for this noon outdoor show, in part because of their two radio hits, “Meanwhile Back At The Ranch” and “Standing Still”. Their hour-long set also included inventive reworkings of Merle Travis’ “Nine Pound Hammer”, “The Orange Blossom Special”, and even a brief nod to “The Little Paper Boy.”
While demonstrating their awareness of the past, they also played several selections from a forthcoming debut CD. One of these, “Always Be You”, showcased the impressive strengths and occasional limitations of the group. The song itself was not much, but what the brothers could put into even an unexceptional composition was impressive. Austin Clark’s fine dobro work and Ashley’s fiddle breaks were highlights here, and throughout the set. Adam was a very strong soloist on both mandolin and the Les Paul. At several points, adequate material was made interesting and even exciting by the brothers’ instrumental abilities, including proficient solos and solid ensemble work that never flagged.
The set ended with a hard-driving original called “I Just Wanna Play (Even If The Job Don’t Pay)”. The joyful attitude concerning the importance of music overpowering all other distractions came across throughout the Clark Family Experience’s performance.