On a lark: Old-time musicians reconnect with their local past

Bob Vasile (pictured here in his college days) joins Larks bandmates Claudine Langille and Jack Herrick for a Lambeth Live show on June 1 at Belmont Arts Collaborative, and a private house concert on June 2. Publicity photo Bob Vasile (pictured here in his college days) joins Larks bandmates Claudine Langille and Jack Herrick for a Lambeth Live show on June 1 at Belmont Arts Collaborative, and a private house concert on June 2. Publicity photo

At a recent house show in Albemarle County, an audience member joined Bob Vasile and his friends, who were performing onstage.

“He was 6’1″, 80 years old and looked like he could split wood all day,” Vasile says. “He got up and sang this song I’d never heard before, this cutesy Irish ballad.”

Not long after the man began singing, Vasile and his bandmates picked up the song’s three chords to back up the stranger’s Irish-accented vocals. They got a kick out of the serendipitous moment, Vasile says. It’s one of the reasons why he loves playing guitar and a pear-shaped string instrument called the bouzouki at house concerts.

Joining Vasile for an upcoming Lambeth Live concert on June 1, and a private house concert on June 2 are Larks bandmates Jack Herrick and Claudine Langille, who are stalwarts of Irish and Appalachian music. The trio met 35 years ago in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where Vasile says old-time music was “bigger than anything.” Herrick was touring globally with the Red Clay Ramblers, a Tony Award-winning string band in which he still plays trumpet and bass. Tenor banjo and mandolin player Langille was performing with Irish-Appalachian band Touchstone—led by the influential and highly acclaimed Irish vocalist Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill.

“We get a lot out of playing with Claudine,” says Herrick. “She is such a bright spirit, so this is a fun combination.”

“[Langille] was the new girl in town,” says Vasile. “Everybody would go watch her play. I see old pictures of us, and we were all kind of cute back then. She was adorable but could play the shit out of that banjo.”

Vasile credits three individuals as pivotal in his development as a musician, and his appreciation for Charlottesville’s well- cultivated music scene—folklorist Cece Conway, Prism Coffeehouse founder Fred Boyce and Vasile’s former bandmate, prominent folk singer and fiddler Freyda Epstein. In the early 1990s, Boyce invited Vasile to Charlottesville to play his first gig with Epstein—in a production of Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind. Herrick and the Red Clay Ramblers’ music had been featured in an off-Broadway run of the play.

With the help of Trapezoid bassist Ralph Gordon, Epstein, Vasile and Gordon began performing under the moniker Freyda & Acoustic AttaTude. In 1993, the band borrowed Old Cabell Hall for seven nights, and recorded live cuts that would become the album Midnight at Cabell Hall. Vasile and his bandmates rented 500 moving blankets to cover empty seats in the auditorium to create the album’s rich, award-winning sound.

Ten years later, Epstein was killed in a head-on collision on Route 29 while she was driving to Musicalia, an annual weekend of music in Albemarle County. Vasile remembers as many as 700 people attending Epstein’s memorial, which included musicians from around the country.

It’s the supportive nature of musicianship in Charlottesville that brings Larks back to town. Herrick has always loved Charlottesville, and Vasile says WTJU’s Lambeth Live shows are a great way for artists to get a high-end recording. Herrick will bring his field piano, a 75-pound folding pump organ (used on war fields for church services), which creates what Herrick calls “droney, squawking sounds” similar to a bagpipe.

“The show will be a mix of Claudine’s songs that are of great beauty and interest, and songs by Bob and me that are absurd novelty songs,” says Herrick. “It’ll be half tunes, half heartfelt and half absurd.”

“There are so many incredible things we’ve experienced together,” Vasile says. “I’m 65 and playing more than ever. It’s like a tune you haven’t played for 10 years, and then you go back to it and remember how awesome it is.”

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