Well, it's October, it's wet and it's windy. And that can only mean one thing. It's the CMEAS autumn tour. The last leg of the ten-date UK tour sees them reach historic Lancaster, one of the most scenic cities in the country. Not that this really matters as everything is hidden beneath a grey cloak of drizzle. Fortunately, it is but a short walk to the venue at the Park Hotel.
One of the features, and great joys, of the CMEAS tours over the years has been their unpredictability. You never quite know what you're going to get and this year, with Chattanooga's Butch Ross, they have excelled themselves.
He moves front and centre holding a curious instrument that looks like a cross between a thin banjo and a short guitar. As I am soon to learn, it is actually a dulcimer and an Appalachian mountain dulcimer at that. Following the opening instrumental he sings a song about folk songs, the aptly titled "I Like Singing Folk Songs", which is a humorous take on his love of the music. Butch's mix of vocals and instrumentals interspersed with anecdotes and the story behind the songs is well received by an appreciative audience and the highlight of this part of his set is his version of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", perhaps unsurprisingly retitled "While My Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer Gently Weeps"!! The song is imbued with a somewhat surreal and eerie quality and, despite my initial doubts, it works perfectly.
The second act is New Jersey's Matt O'Ree who, along with his band, is an altogether livelier and louder proposition. Short on chat and long on guitar solos Matt wastes no time getting down to business with some pounding blues based rock. The influences of Cream, Free, and Zeppelin are all detectable in this band's sound (and in some cases the hairstyles!). The band are clearly on a mission to get the decibels and temperature rising and it doesn't take them long for them to succeed. All too soon they close with a raucous up-tempo blues number that gives the audience the chance to get their dancing shoes on.
A short break ensues during which time the venue apparently receives a visitation from a noise abatement officer. Not that I actually see - or hear - him. The quiet man with the dulcimer therefore takes to the stage for his second set of the night. The highlights this time round are his arrangement of the traditional "Moonshiner", as well as a fine tribute to the Mersey sound with an instrumental version of "Eleanor Rigby".
To cap of the night's entertainment, Matt O'Ree takes to the stage again, and with the band fully warmed up from their opening set, they really let rip with everything they've got in their arsenal. Clearly relishing playing live, they leave no riff unplayed. Everyone is soon roped in to help out with Butch Ross adding a dulcimer solo - now there's a phrase you never thought you'd hear! CMEAS's organiser, and Convulsions front man, Ben Ruth and his harmonica also join in for a few numbers and contribute to a blistering jam of Junior Wells' "Messin' with the Kid". With that, another evening of entertainment courtesy of CMEAS finally comes to a rapturous close.
As everyone starts to make their way into the night I'm sure that Matt O'Ree has inspired many to pick up their air guitars when they get home, and I suspect there may be just a few picking up air dulcimers!