Saturday’s show at Crossroads KC had several facets.
It was the farewell show for Big Smith, a veteran band of family and kin from Springfield. It was a welcome back for country-rockers emeritus the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, also from Springfield. It was an introduction for many in the crowd to Powder Mill, another band from down in the Ozark hills. It was also a four-hour showcase of various blends of country, bluegrass and rock, each steeped in sounds of southern Missouri.
The group is now in its fifth decade as a touring band — “semi-retired and touring on a very limited basis,” says the band’s website. Its previous show in Kansas City was two years ago, when the band performed at Knuckleheads for the screening of the documentary “Cowtown Ballroom: Sweet Jesus.”
The Daredevils perform as a nine-piece that includes founding members John Dillon, Michael “Supe” Granada and Steve Cash plus longtime drummer Ron Gremp.
The limited touring schedule hasn’t taken much luster off the band’s live shows. Its music sounds of its founding era: a blend of country rock brighter than the more cosmic sounds of, say, the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Byrds or the more subversive sounds of the Stones on “Exile on Main St.”
Under a cloudless sky on a perfect June evening, it all sounded warm and serene. About half the crowd of 1,100 or so looked content watching and listening from the lawn chairs and blankets they’d set in the mulch.
The setlist went back to the band’s first album and tracks such as “Standing on the Rock,” “Colorado Song” and “Black Sky.” It also included its biggest hits: the locomotive “Chicken Train,” the poppy “Jackie Blue” and “If You Want to Get to Heaven,” which brought a lot of folks off their blankets and out of their lawn chairs.
The Daredevils followed an opening set by Powder Mill, a group that does some arresting things with country, blues and Southern rock. It’s outlaw/hillbilly country with some Southern rock, but closer to Steve Earle’s take on it in the late 1980s than Waylon’s or Willie’s. Among their song titles: “Hillbilly Heroin” and “Meth Lab Blues.”
Big Smith performed second, and it spent its hour-plus set saying farewell and showing off its many country/bluegrass flavors, both electric and acoustic, in songs such as “,” “Burn Down the House (and Leave by the Light of the Fire),” “Ride That Train” and “Big Rock.” It’s mostly a mix of contemporary bluegrass and traditional country with some hillbilly blues, rendered in guitar, fiddle, mandolin, standup bass and the occasional washboard and blues harp laid in the mix. And it’s all done with the seeming ease that comes from musicians that have been doing it relentlessly for 15 years. They will be missed.
During the encore, the Daredevils brought out both bands and all 19 musicians for “Beauty in the River,” a Daredevils song, and then the old-time hymn “I’ll Fly Away.”
That one was a nice valediction for Big Smith and an apt close to an evening that paid tribute to the spirit of the music that has erupted and evolved and endured in southern Missouri.