Grammy winner Gillian Welch and guitarist David Rawlings played the historic McDonald Theater Sunday night in support of their latest record “The Harrow and the Harvest.”
In what has been nearly a decade since their last release, “Soul Journey,” and nearly as long since last visiting Eugene in 2005, Welch and Rawlings were greeted by a packed theater Sunday night.
Early fans crowded the Willamette Street corner, forming long ticket lines as they eagerly awaited one of the theater’s most anticipated summer shows. Discussions of Welch’s latest release filled the air as the large crowd packed the sidewalk and east entrance of the building.
“We definitely didn’t expect this many people,” said longtime staff member Tim Meyer. “We knew it was going to be busy, but honestly, I think we’re all a little stunned. For a Sunday night, with The Country Fair going on, I can’t remember a time when it’s been this busy.”
The singer-songwriter, gaining mainstream recognition after receiving a Grammy Award for songs featured in the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” hit the stage running and never stopped until well into the night. In a two-set, double encore performance, Rawlings and Welch delivered an arsenal of tunes from their lengthy, five album catalog.
While the current tour supports her work on “The Harrow and the Harvest,” some of the strongest moments of the night came from past favorites such as “Look at Miss Ohio” and “Revelator.” Doc Watson’s “Make me a Pallet on Your Floor,” was also beautifully executed, with the attentive crowd hanging on every word.
After leaving the stage for the first time, the duo returned with a powerful version of “I hear them all,” moving straight into Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” But it wasn’t until returning to a standing ovation for a second time, however, that Welch really won over McDonald’s crowd with an old-fashioned ‘stage stomp’ dance accompanied by Rawlings smooth banjo and harmonica.
Having been playing music together for over 20 years, Rawlings and Welch not only complement each other effortlessly on stage, but they also feed off of each other’s moods incredibly well. The distinct playing styles of each musician continue to evolve with the sounds of their newest material. At one point in the set Welch even engaged the audience regarding their latest record: “These songs are so new, we’ll just try and break them in on you first,” Welch said in reference to Eugene being one of the first stops of the tour.
Beginning last week in Santa Cruz, the tour will be one of Welch’s longest; spanning over a four month period. After swinging throughout the Northwest, the group will make its way along the Canadian border and finally wrap things up Dec. 1 at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.