I showed up towards the tail-end of Duke's warm-up, so not much can be said. The members played a 30-minute set, the crowd was sparse but growing and the familiar scents of Jackie O's homebrew clouded my thoughts and invaded my nostrils. Under a drunken haze, I swayed to the emanating swoon of lead singer Jess Kaufman's voice. Despite being a woman of such small stature, Kaufman's voice commanded the attention of those in attendance, while the sweet country twangs of Casey Davis' guitar lulled the bar into peaceful submission.
I was glad that this was just an appetizer as I eagerly anticipated the full course, and I am not usually one for corny analogies.
New York-based Nightmare Riverband played next to the ever-expanding Jackie O's clientele. I'd heard from a trusted source that they sound like a mix of Tom Waits and Beach Boys, and I must admit that the description was spot on. Midway through the set, members of Duke Junior joined the band onstage for an impromptu cover of Katy Perry's “Hot n' Cold.”
I blabbered to a friend that I “love this Taylor Swift song,” only to be reprimanded for my lack of pop culture knowledge. It was, however, good to see such camaraderie amongst musicians as none tried to hide his joy in playing a Top 40 hit.
Nightmare Riverband ended its set with the audience at peak energy level. A solid opener. The time was right for a Duke Junior reprise.
I'd first seen these darlings open at a Manor show last year, and they have since become the toast of the town. Duke's folk-infused country music combines the charming and rustic elements of Athens into finely tuned tracks that capture the essence of our beloved little town.
The aforementioned Kaufman and guitarist/bassist Kyle Martin exchanged vocal duties throughout the set. The Martin-led “Two Dollar Bill” eased newcomers to the band's nuanced sound, and later on, Kaufman vocalized the pain of a long-distance relationship with the gentle “Honey Go On.” The highlight of the set was a very drunken rendition of my personal favorite “Traveling Man,” which features Matt Horne on the fiddle in a bluegrass hoedown.
With upcoming shows at Casa and The Union, Duke Junior is fast becoming an Athens staple, and judging by reactions from so-called bros and hipsters alike, none at all seem to be in opposition to this burgeoning troupe of talents.
-Paolo Balboa, Staff Writer