Last fall, I stumbled across a Louisville, KY-based group that called themselves Bendigo Fletcher. Being a native Kentuckian living out of his element in central Ohio, the group’s syncretic blend of bluegrass, folk and rock was deeply nostalgic, calling back to breathtaking Appalachian vistas that sheltered me for the first 18 years of my life.
The band’s twin EP’s, 2018’s “Consensual Wisdom” and 2019’s “Memory Fever” came packed with these gorgeous, earthy sounds that grounded me to my roots. I enjoyed “Memory Fever” enough to add it to my ever-expanding vinyl collection the day it released in record stores. The breezy, captivating bluegrass sounds the group offers on their studio productions perfectly capture the ethos of Appalachia and life in the Bluegrass State.
When the opportunity arose to travel to my home town of Lexington, KY to see the group perform live, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. The Burl, a concert venue that is little more than a barn nestled in in Lexington’s Distillery District, offered a homey, authentic atmosphere to house the show. At capacity in a standing room only space and bending the wooden floorboards, every member of the audience was sweatily packed together in a carefree union that transcended personal space. Tobacco smoke and whiskey hung heavy in the air and a low murmur of conversation filled any empty space, only adding to The Burl’s thick Appalachian atmosphere.
Buck the Taxidermist, a Lexington-based group reminiscent of a folkier Modest Mouse, and Cara Louise, a St. Louis singer with a unique, indie-country flare, opened for the headliner, each offering their own take on rural sounds, feelings and culture. A stained-glass tree inset in the wooden wall framed center stage, backlighting each artist with a symbolic callback to the simplest of rural staples.
The performance Bendigo Fletcher offered was nothing short of transcendent. From the moment they stepped onto the tiny stage, the group commanded every member of the audience to sway with the beat and harmonize with the wild vocal riffs that lead singer Ryan Anderson let loose into the venue. Every second felt organic, as if they were playing each note for the first time. Anderson didn’t stick to the melodies, harmonies and notes laid out in the band’s studio versions of songs like “Soul Factory” and “To the Red River.” Building up to the chorus in the former piece, Anderson seemed to forget the lyrics, pausing to ask the audience for help. Moments like these highlighted not the imperfection of the band, but the pure simplicity and genuineness of Bendigo Fletcher. The raw emotion and the traditional storytelling offered a new take on a very old sound that not even the band’s studio recordings could quite convey.
“Solar Eclipse 8/12/17,” the acoustic-led track that introduced me to Bendigo Fletcher’s art, hung a little closer to the group’s studio-produced sound, but even still offered a dimension through live performance that the recorded version couldn’t hope to capture.
The group closed their performance with “Wonderfully Bizarre,” their live rendition of which threw out almost everything except for the song’s lyrics, swapping slow, acoustic melodies with blaring guitar riffs and quiet but soaring harmonies with roaring, wild vocals, commanding the audience more than ever to move in unison to the music. The song’s live performance encapsulated everything the group means to me and then some.
With their soliloquies on and eulogies of Appalachian life, Bendigo Fletcher has fully captivated me. Their studio music has brought me peace and comfort even as I live out of my element in Springfield, OH, and enlightened me with nostalgia for my own youth in the rural wilds of the hills. Their live performance at The Burl, though, was an experience beyond my words description. It was beauty, peace, pain and love all in one. It was pure, unapologetic joy, an artistic experience like I have never enjoyed before. Perhaps Bendigo Fletcher’s art isn’t for everyone—but it certainly is for me.