With the summer season just around the corner, Temecula’s wineries, restaurants, and hot spots have been gearing up their respective entertainment calendars with tons of musical acts – from blues bands to country pickers to local singer/songwriters to top-name touring acts of all genres. When making plans for a Friday or Saturday night (or maybe an afternoon in wine country), how do you choose? Well, allow me make it a little easier for you – if you’re seeking a great evening of intimate acoustic folk/pop, search no more. Simply Check out Swift Pony.
Swift Pony are Wayne Cameron (guitar/vocals) and Lily McCabe (fiddle/vocals), a local duo who play sweet, Celtic-influenced folk rock/pop. Though their sound can be a little tough to pin down stylistically, think along the lines of Fairport Convention meets (solo) Richard Thompson meets Alison Krauss & Union Station, with a little Bob Dylan and Gillian Welch thrown in the musical stew as well. The blending of acoustic guitar and fiddle has typically equaled rootsy, folksy music, and while Swift Pony’s sound certainly has a certain down-home earthiness, there are plenty of pop leanings to engage the casual listener. I know they hooked me.
I caught them this past Friday night performing two sets at Stellar Cellar in Old Town Temecula. Swift Pony’s intimate, homespun sound worked perfectly in the cozy & quaint environs of Stellar Cellar – the two were made for each other. With Wayne taking the lead vocals on the majority of the duo’s songs, Swift Pony ran through a set of original tunes, covers of local singer/songwriters, and brave renditions of well-known classics such as “Crazy” (Willie Nelson), “Folsom Prison Blues” (Johnny Cash), and Otis Redding’s “(Sittin On) The Dock Of The Bay.” Wayne’s gentle, calm, and smooth demeanor in-between songs gave the set even more of an authentic vibe – yes, they were here to sing for and entertain you, but they also wanted to reach out and be your friends. Couple that with natural and acoustically-warm setting, and it felt like the band was playing in my living room. Intimate indeed.
Wayne’s guitar playing has a rhythmic flair that definitely drives Swift Pony, but it’s Lily’s fiddle that gives the duo its musical color and texture. In many ways, she’s Swift Pony’s MVP, as her soaring and melodic fiddle gave each of their tunes that “missing ingredient” – whether it was taking a song to the bridge, adding harmonic depth, or simply giving a song space to breathe. Any band worth its salt knows that it’s the space in between the actual notes that tell the true story. Swift Pony have learned this lesson.
The melding of fiddle and acoustic guitar can be a thing of majestic beauty, and at various times throughout their set, they achieved such nirvana. My personal highlight of the evening was their reading of Bob Dylan’s classic “All Along The Watchtower.” They eased into the tune at such a slow tempo that it was almost unrecognizable at first. Save for my ears picking up on a couple of the lyrics (“Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth”), I wouldn’t have realized it was a cover until the chorus – it could have passed for one of their originals. Lily then came in with a yearning, delicate, almost innocent solo, which eventually lead to Wayne crashing in and taking the song to a rock tempo for its apex – with both musicians ending in a wild flourish (“Two riders were approaching, and the wind began to howl!”). They may have modeled their cover after that of the Dave Matthews Band’s version, but it was a clever deconstruction of the song popularized by Jimi Hendrix that would have made the songwriter, Mr. Dylan (known to tinker with and change his own songs to unrecognizable depths), very proud.
If that sounds like your version of a good time (and perhaps a glass or two of wine – I enjoyed an Argentinian Malbec that evening), then do yourself a favor and go see Swift Pony the next time they play. They’ll be at the Merc on May 7th, Tesoro Winery May 8th, and Café Aroma (Idyllwild) May 10th. For more upcoming shows, visit their MySpace page: myspace.com/swiftponyband
And make sure you stop in to Stellar Cellar for not only a great selection of wine and handcrafted beers, but for an impressive line-up of musical acts and wine tastings & dinners. stellarcellar.com