Flannel. Hot. Put those two words together, and you’ve got the jarring juxtaposition of an adjective designed to scintillate, and a material so homespun it’s downright humble. Hot Flannel, a head-turning foursome of handsome country-boys-turned-men making newgrass music like there’s no tomorrow, embodies that same unexpected twist of grounded and ground-breaking, cozy and cathartic.

 

It’s been a rough or a smooth day, or a mix of both—don’t worry, this quartet is comfortable with contrast–and you’re ready to be transported into the realm of soul-lifting music where gifted musicians are mere channels for ancient messages passed through the generations to our waiting, wordless souls. You’re in good hands. Four men of the hills, clad in jeans and flannel, bearded and every-day, stand casually on stage, and we are at once at home with their unassuming strength and clear, quiet purpose. As their fingers align on the strings, the instant transformation occurs as flannel gives way to heat, and a timeless, perfect ripple of sound and meaning envelops us and carries us away. When musicians play this comfortably, this well, this harmoniously together, the musicians themselves recede as the musical ride becomes our only experience. Hearing Hot Flannel is like floating on a tidy raft of trusty timbers down the clear running waters of an old Vermont river in the bright, hot sun. The river’s always been there, we’ve just never experienced it quite like this before. And it will never look quite the same to us again.

 

This particular Vermont river, like any other, has its origins deep in the nestling hills of New England. Let’s trace the varied streams that feed the river, walking back in place and time to their springs.

 

Vermont-born Patrick Ross doesn’t just play the fiddle—this unassuming master seems to sing the fiddle, or rather, the fiddle itself seems to sing soulfully in his strong and graceful hands. As he plays, he sometimes leans his head over, like a boy in his mother’s lap, listening quietly to the words of the stories being told to him. It’s easy to forget he’s playing at all—rather, we feel that he’s a conduit for phrases sung long ago in ancient languages. During performances, Patrick narrates in English, Quebecois, and a host of perfectly imitated accents he’s heard and naturally absorbed. A fifth-generation fiddler of French Canadian folk tunes, Patrick grew up bilingual in a close-knit family, in a tiny town on the border between the US and Canada. His ear is attuned to the sounds and contrasts of voices, cultures, and resiliency in trying times, and his music carries meaning more mature than any 30-something human has had time to invent. He’s a listener, and when he plays, we ride the memories of sound he recounts so effortlessly.

 
When the music ends, we feel somehow satisfied, as if the story has reached its conclusion, or the river has found the sea. Those same four guys with their earthy wooden instruments stand comfortably before us, yet they don’t look quite the same—we’ve glimpsed the sacred clothed in everyday flannel, heard the ancient voices singing through the fingers of regular folk. Ross, Shrag, Perkins and Melvin weave their instrumentation together so readily, so joyously, with seemingly no thought other than a common destination, that they carry us like a single raft along a stream of pure, woven sound. Cool flannel has never radiated quite so much heat.

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