The upstairs portion of the Outback Lodge is a combination ski lodge and video arcade—a pinball machine and foosball table lay at opposite ends of the space, and a moose head hangs on a wooden wall, facing the L-shaped bar. A short wooden partition with a window carved through it separates the room into two halves, as if to remind a stranger to the venue where the beer ends and the music begins.
Sarah White & The Pearls played to a friendly crowd at the Outback Lodge
But there isn’t a stranger among the 20 or so people in sight, which may be why Sarah White seems so comfortable. The lanky, red-haired singer moves back and forth between the two halves of the room, talking to friends and grabbing a drink before taking a seat at the makeshift window in the partition as The Honey Dewdrops take the stage.
A late addition to the bill (and relative newcomers to the local music scene), the ‘Drops seem like the perfect band to fill any set length, 30 minutes or three hours—as pleasant and unobtrusive as a jukebox. The group’s diminutive singer firmly wraps her gut around the center of each note and urges it out while her lead guitarist lends spare solos to each number, approaching but never overtaking the spotlight on covers of Townes Van Zandt’s "White Freightliner Blues" and a take on the "Old Time Religion" spiritual, the singer commanding the scene instead, crooning "old dash of morphine" over the refrain.
A few new faces arrive for David Shultz and The Skyline—most likely fans of the Richmond band that followed Skyline to town. As Skyline’s drummer raps a cymbal against his chest and kicks the bass drum, Shultz leads his band into "Free," a step away from Woody Guthrie’s "Airline to Heaven" as played by Wilco, complete with delayed, reverb-heavy Telecaster noise. Shultz’s voice seems to toss between a Ryan Adams drawl and a Mason Jennings laziness—a slow ascent to each note’s peak—and Skyline lets him run the show while holding steady.
|Take a listen to Sweetheart by Sarah White:
Sarah White steps onto the low stage, bathed entirely in red light, and says that Charlottesville has left the Pearls "hot, sweaty and bored out of our minds," then draws back with a slight smile. "Well, not me," she says. "But I’m easy."
And White walks as easily as she talks: Rather than the typically locomotive "whoa whoa" during "Spoken Word," her vocals merge with the backing notes from bassist Jeff Grosfeld and new drummer, Stuart Gunter (of the Wrinkle Neck Mules), then scatter. Elsewhere, she draws out the vowels in "Fighting Words"—requested (twice) by two staggering girls that dance through White’s entire set—holding her ground as she sings "It’s all strikes now, baby/ And our backs are at the feeence."
The setlist doesn’t shift much—White still closes with "Sarah Arizona" (I maintain that "I Can’t Wait," with its references to grabbing a cold beer with an overdue friend, is the obvious choice)—but White’s vocals make this one of her best gigs, as she pulls off the mic to yelp and leans in close to whistle. At her set’s end, the bar is empty and the crowd is hers—on her side of the partition, requesting "Sweetheart" and "Fighting Words." Again.