On Saturday, October 20, the award winning Americana couple Ordinary Elephant will perform for Flying Cat Music at the Empire State Railway Museum (ESRM). The ESRM is located at 70 Lower High Street in Phoenicia. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. and music begins at 7:30. Admission is $17 or $15 with reservations. For information or reservations, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 845-688-9453.
Crystal and Pete Damore are Ordinary Elephant, a husband and wife duo who have been performing together since 2011. They garnered significant praise with the release of their first album, Dusty Words and Cardboard Boxes, in 2013. The Texas Music Journal wrote at the time “It’s fairly clear that Ordinary Elephant has made an impressive start, but oh, what wonderful places they may eventually go.” That sentiment couldn’t have been more prescient. Ordinary Elephant’s 2017 sophomore effort, Before I Go, ended up as the number seven album for that year on the Folk DJ Chart, and since its release numerous honors have come Ordinary Elephant’s way. In fact their rapid ascent in the Folk, Roots, and American worlds has been nothing short of remarkable. In February, Ordinary Elephant was named Artist of the Year for 2017 by the International Folk Music Awards.
Ordinary Elephant’s music offers, in the words of Lonesome Highway, “Intelligent and interesting writing, sublime vocals, stellar playing.” Americana UK praises Ordinary Elephant for “heartfelt singing and beautiful arrangements hung together with a potent lyricism that is all too rare.” Their group name, according to Crystal, “is pretty much to remind us that ordinary can be a pretty misleading word, elephants are just magnificent creatures, and even your ordinary elephant is pretty darn amazing… it’s to remind us to take a second look at things.” Even with that being said, there is nothing merely ordinary about the songs this duo writes, or the music that they make; they have more going on than initially meets the ear.
If you were to hear Ordinary Elephant for the first time from a distance, you might call their genre traditional, but move in closer to find two contemporary songwriters at the peak of their prowess. The Ordinary Elephant sound is stripped down to an indelible core: sparse strings and heart wrenching harmonies. Not a note played is unneeded, nor are there any that should be spared. Crystal brings a deft sure touch to the guitar, and Pete’s perfectly placed claw hammer banjo riffs and strums frame the songs with hallowed tones that invariably draw you in. When Ordinary Elephant plays uptempo, their songs don’t race ahead of the listener. On ballads the music lingers just long enough for subtle feelings to seep in. The result is a penetrating aura of authenticity that permeates Ordinary Elephant’s live performances.
For all of that though, it may well be their vocals that truly set Ordinary Elephant apart. Pete and Crystal Damore have voices that entwine with an intensity that vibrates, but it is Crystal on lead vocals who causes goosebumps to form. Hers is a classic mountain voice shaded toward a lower register, and the emotion she captures with it is extraordinary. She is earnest and sensual simultaneously.
Crystal and Pete have performed together as Ordinary Elephant since 2011, back when they both called Texas home. Since 2014, though, the road has been their home – literally. Ordinary Elephant are modern nomads playing a nonstop tour. They’re living in a small RV with their four dogs, finding inspiration in the places they visit and the people they meet, weaving all of it into songs. It’s the lifestyle of the troubadour, a tradition that dates back centuries, and it is just as relevant today as it has ever been.
A writer at No Depression recently published a piece called “How Musicians Make the World a Better Place.” In it he contemplated the power of music to make change, to fight injustice and to point to a better world. He picked eight songs to highlight; among them was “Scars We Keep” by Ordinary Elephant, and he printed these lyrics from it:
How can I keep my mind open if my eyes are closed? It’s hard to hide the hate when there’s no love to show. How can I nail a man up for the color of his skin? Knock him down, make him pay, for my father’s sin. And I am starting to see; We are all the color of the scars we keep….
These times are hard, and it’s harder to heal, when where you were born decides what you fear. It’s time to be a brother, not my father’s son. I was born to be a bigot, but that don’t mean that I’m one.
Crystal Damore related to an interviewer how “Scars We Keep” was written:
“It came quick, which is atypical for me… The narrator of this song needed his story told, and we needed the hope that came with it. We are grateful for every person that shares with us how this song resonates with them. Hours after our performance at the Kerrville Folk Festival this year, a man made his way to us in the campground that night, and with tears in his eyes said ‘I want to thank you for that song you did on main stage tonight.’ Quoting this song, he said, ‘You changed my point of view.’ Things like this remind us why we do what we do. Songs speak, and they can heal.”
Blessed are the troubadours.