The days leading up to the New Year typically hold no shortage of options when it comes to great music. On new year’s eve eve eve in Seattle, the choice was a no brainer: The Lil Smokies and Fruition at the Crocodile Café. Out of Missoula, MT and Portland, OR, respectively, these two Pacific Northwest bands met a sold out crowd at a crossroads between their hometowns. Following a sold out Smokies performance at Neumos this past September and an over 1.5-year Seattle drought by Fruition, locals could not contain their excitement at this excellent show bill.
The Lil Smokies packed the room early for an opening set of charged bluegrass. As I was waiting for the set to start, a few people divulged to me that the Smokies were the only reason they came out. I couldn’t help but smile. I love it when people show up for a great bluegrass band, especially one out of the Pacific Northwest. As soon as the music started, their melodies melted together in such a way that singing came out of the crowd naturally. One moment you weren’t singing. The next moment, you were. You didn’t even know the words. It didn’t matter. A highlight for the hardcore bluegrass fans in the crowd was their cover of Billy Strings song, “Dust in a Baggie” sung with an endearing country twang by fiddler Jake Simpson. It was a masterful way to ramp up the energy of the set. They then flowed into tunes off their new album, Changing Shades: “Miss Marie,” “The City,” “The Gallery,” and “Feathers.” They ended by covering Fleetwood Mac’s, “Go Your Own Way.” Who doesn’t like Fleetwood Mac? This was a formula for success.
For me, Fruition is a band of contradictions. They’re being embraced by the jam community, but they don’t really jam. They’re being embraced by the bluegrass community, but they’re not really bluegrass. Of course, there are exceptions to these statements, which is yet another reason this band is so alluring. What’s their secret? Over the past 10 years of their existence, they have changed in both lineup and style, switching up bassists and morphing from busking string band to amped-up Americana rockers. Through all this change, one thing has remained constant: their remarkable ability to write ultra-relatable songs.
After not having played in Seattle since April 2016, Fruition arrived ready to atone for their sins, playing a massive chunk of their musical library. The set list included tunes, “One Eye Open,” and “Never Again,” from their folkier days, blues-inspired “Santa Fe,” and “There She Was,” and new alt rock single, “I’ll Never Sing Your Name.” Overall, Fruition writes about love in an incredibly moving way, hitting the mark on all aspects of the experience—falling in love, being in love, and heartbreak. On top of that, covers of The Beatles’, “I’ve Got A Feeling,” and Tom Petty’s, “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” left the audience in puddles on the floor. Even if you’re not into any of that stuff, their powerful stage presence and undeniable swagger is a true joy to witness.
These two bands are the real deal, somehow cajoling music fans of the most discerning tastes out of the woodwork and into a sweaty club in Belltown (which is a lot harder than it sounds). Personally, this was the most fun I’ve had at a show in Seattle since I can remember. Surrounded by some of my dearest friends singing along to some of my favorite tunes, it was, as corny as it might sound, magical. I couldn’t think of a better place to leave 2017 in the dust and welcome a groovy new year.