By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
I spent another Saturday night with another band that has many miles on its career without attracting celebrity.
A week ago it was the 50-year-old hitless wonders, NRBQ, at Howard’s Club H. This week it was Mustard’s Retreat at another venerable venue, the Pemberville Opera House.
Mustard’s Retreat – Michael Hough, David Tamulevich, and Libby Glover – go way back to the Ann Arbor music scene of the mid-1970s. Like so many musicians they got their start in the food industry – Hough and Tamulevich met when they were short order cooks at The Brown Jug in Ann Arbor, and Glover tended bar at the Heidelberg where Tamulevich would perform.
She sang with the guys for a few years before heading out on her own, and they continued, playing the region and reaching further afield, finding their niche… in Flint.
And there was a sense that those many nights on the road led to this particular show in Pemberville. They opened and closed their first set with their two most popular songs, which Tamulevich noted at the break are included in the “Rise Again Songbook,” the sequel the famous volume.
They opened with “Gather the Family” and closed with “(Ours Is a) Simple Faith,” which has become a favorite in some churches. Road songs threaded through between those two, and then extended into a second set. Along the way they’ve harvested songs. A weather vane can inspired a fanciful song about a dragon. Dancing with a town’s oddball character can inspire a touching ballad. A women’s voice on a CB radio can inspire romantic thoughts on the road from Flint to Ann Arbor. Or a forgetful organizer can lead the duo to understand what matters in their musical mission.
In this case, they’d been booked in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, but when they called to confirm, they learned that the organizer had forgotten and the gig was the same as the town’s annual potluck dinner and dance. They could come and play before the dance, he told the duo, and then pass the hat. This was their first “tour” – three dates in Wisconsin – so they agreed. They were moved by seeing four generations of townsfolk eating, partying and dancing together. They’d never been there before, but these were their people.
Now with Glover back in the fold, they delivered these songs they’d gathered from their own imaginations and the pens of others, in tight three-part harmony with performances whose casualness belied their careful arrangements.
And the audience was encouraged to join in. The Pemberville audience didn’t need much encouragement. The trio launched into the Tennessee Ernie Ford hit “Sixteen Tons” after “Gather the Family,” and the audience chimed in. Hough said he’d heard that song when he was 10, and then they sang a song he heard a year later, “King of the Road,” again with audience participation. (A week before NRBG also did a version of the Roger Miller tune testifying to its cross-genre appeal.)
The songs were connected by patches of storytelling. Hough even recited a long poem about long-lasting love. They sang a protest song about the Flint water crisis. Those are their people as well.
Some folks were on hand at the opera house because they remember Mustard’s Retreat from their shows in Bowling Green more than a decade ago, most others were newcomers to their music.
After the trio closed with a heart-felt “Shenandoah,” I couldn’t help but feel we had somehow all become part of Mustard’s Retreat’s story.