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Old-Time in the Unity Center: John Cohen / Dust Busters Concert in Cleveland Hts.

John Cohen and the Dust Busters delivered a bouquet of old-time gems Sunday night, at an event that was nearly canceled because of a house fire.
Road weary and looking tired from a heavy touring schedule this fall, the Dust Busters arrived at the Unity Center in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, after a string of concerts starting Nov. 15 from Hiram, Ohio, to Louisville, Ky., to Knoxville, Tenn., to Newport, Ky., and finally back to Ohio on the 20th.

With one last concert before heading home to Brooklyn, N.Y., the band featured Cohen as its special guest at an event that featured a showing of Cohen's recent film "Roscoe Holcomb: From Daisy, Kentucky" and a potluck meal. The concert was sponsored by the non-profit group Roots of American Music (ROAM).

The event started at about 6:45 p.m. with the film, a short documentary about Holcomb and his life in East Kentucky, compiled from the outtakes of Cohen's seminal film "The High Lonesome Sound." After the film, Cohen answered a few questions from the audience before the concert began.

Cohen discovered Holcomb in the 1950s while he was traveling around Kentucky looking for banjo players. While Holcomb looks deadly serious in the footage shown, Cohen said that he was often funny and that "bonus tracks" on the DVD of the film show Holcomb in a more jovial mood. Cohen added that he was proud to have coined the phrase "high lonesome sound" to describe the music of Southern Appalachia.

The concert featured two sets, with all the members of the Dust Busters -- Eli Smith, Craig Judelman and Walker Shepard -- and Cohen all singing and exchanging instruments, including banjo, fiddle, guitar, banjo-mandolin and jews harp. The concert featured songs, ballads and fiddle tunes from the American repertoire, from old-time to the Depression era.

There were some rough moments early in the first set, but the group seemed to find its groove with a rollicking version of Ed Haley's "Catlettsburg," which was on the band's most recent album, "Prohibition is a Failure," which also features Cohen.

The short break between sets seemed to revive the Dust Busters and their 78-year-old mentor. The second set featured more energy and a haunting rendition of George Landers' "Rolling Mills Are Burning Down," by Cohen solo on banjo.

The Dust Busters have thankfully made Ohio a regular stop on its tours, and this was another fine performance by this young group that continues to hone its stage presence and mastery of the music. The partnership with the legendary Cohen adds another feather in the hatbands of these excellent musicians who have picked up where the New Lost City Ramblers left off.

Sadly, this event was nearly snuffed out when an apparent faulty wire caused a fire at the beautiful house where the concert was originally to be held. Thankfully, no one was injured, but several fire trucks were on scene to extinguish the flames. We at the Glory-Beaming Banjo offer our condolences to the house owners and hope for their house to be repaired quickly.

Kudos to Kevin Richards at ROAM and the rest of the concert organizers for their quick action in notifying the more than 70 ticket holders of the last-minute venue change. And special thanks to the Unity Center for hosting the event on such short notice.

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