BY PETER HUMMERS | The force of nature known as the Hunt Family Fiddlers descended on the Outer Banks Forum Saturday, singing, fiddling and step-dancing their way into the hearts of the audience at the First Flight High School.
Remarkable as it was to see a family of nine perform cohesively (the “kids” are aged 11 to 20), the real magic was in the uncommon excellence of the music, most of it original, and the performances.
The evening began with Jonathan, 16, sitting on a cajón (a box drum), father Clint on acoustic guitar, son Joshua, 17, on electric bass and daughter Jennifer, 20, on fiddle, assaying an atmospheric Irish air. Then three strikes from the cajón signaled the start of a lively jig, “Catharsis” (listen to the studio mp3), which saw the other members of the family mount the stage, most carrying fiddles.
The multiple fiddlers weren’t all just playing in unison with Jennifer – they added harmonies and overtones that drew the audience into the music, an effect emphasized with three-beat stop-time sections that echoed and amplified the chorus and introduced solos; finally most of the musicians were trading step-dancing turns with their accompaniment.
By the end of the number, Clint, Jonathan, Joshua and Jennifer had been joined by mother Sandy on violin; Jennifer’s twin, Jessica, guitar, violin and vocals; Jordan, 14, drums and electric guitar; Justin, 12, violin and vocals; and Jamison, 11, violin. All the kids played violin and step-danced, and the boys were either nationally- or world-ranked step dancers. All of the above talents were put to great use during the show, not to mention the music written by the kids.
Jennifer’s song “Friend” (studio mp3), written about the loneliness of months on the road, was a beautiful melancholic ballad backed by orchestral keyboard and violin work and a haunting chorus (“Where are you now?”) that in later iterations was lifted by some lovely vocal harmonies.
Jessica’s “Apple Tree” (studio mp3) started as a slightly goofy celebratory country anthem, as might have been enjoyed by the Clarence White-era Byrds, which was completely infectious, and through the joyous performance and lyric focus from the local (“I’m back singing by the apple trees”) to the cosmic (“Sun shine down, and world spin around”), pretty profound.
Classic-rock lover Jonathan’s “Crazy Fingers” (studio mp3) was an instrumental rock piano showcase (think Edgar Winter meets the Dregs) that enlisted more than his own crazy fingers – there was space for some dazzling solos from guitars and violins.
The twins sang a beautiful arrangement of the traditional spiritual “I’ll Fly Away,” backed by Clint’s subdued electric-guitar drone. The girls must have been harmonizing together for 20 years.
Joshua sang “The Story” (YouTube video of a different live performance here), a full-bore power ballad, and pulled off a fine electric-guitar solo, backed by the whole rockin’ family and especially Jordan on drums and his sisters on vocals.
Jennifer’s “Hearts Held High” (also the name of their latest CD) was a collaboration: she went to her brothers for some help in one of the sections and their suggestions turned her traditional Gaelic ballad into a piece of nautical art-rock with discrete sections that would have done Procol Harum proud. All of the original music was laden with memorable hooks that would embed it in the audience’s psyches and require the purchase of the band’s CDs to maintain steady doses of said music.
There were bouts of step-dancing, including the three eldest boys under black light (“Thunder”), which made it appear for a while that three neckties, six drumsticks and six shoes were dancing in space, and an exhibition of mass fiddling: all the kids lined up and each bowed the fiddle being held and fingered by the sibling to their left.
The audience fell hard for the talented musical family. Their website features a tantalizing selections of audio and video downloads to whet your appetite.