Della Mae live at the Collective Encore review: Bluegrass heaven

Della Mae tried out several news songs in the concert.
Jeff Hahne/GettyImages

“What’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle?” According to Della Mae’s multi-instrumentalist Kimber Ludiker, it’s that you can spill beer on a fiddle. However, Ludiker and her bandmates in the bluegrass quartet seemed to like an audience member’s answer just as much. “It’s a fiddle when you buy it – a violin when you sell it.”

Della Mae is out on the road again trying out a bevy of new songs as they prepare to record their sixth album in Nashville later this Summer. On Thursday, they were in the lovely Collective Encore in Columbia, MD for a show that was equal parts rollicking and intimate. Locals fans may recall the cabaret-style space as the former Soundry, lost to COVID several years back. It has now been rechristened as The Encore, the primary difference being that seats at tables are now assigned.

This was the second show on Della Mae’s latest tour, and as frontwoman Celia Woodsmith told the crowd, “You’re lucky – we got all the kinks worked out the first night.”

Della Mae produced another excellent performance at the Collective Encore

There were no kinks to be heard on Thursday. All four musicians were in excellent form. Woodsmith’s voice dominated the room and her acoustic guitar provided a lot of the percussion that underpinned many numbers. When she switched over to the washboard for several songs, that percussion effect was even more obvious.

She stood front and center, flanked by bassist Vickie Vaughn, twice recognized by the International Bluegrass Music Association as Bass Player of the Year. Vaughn, a Belmont University grad, takes the occasional lead vocal but mostly harmonizes with Woodsmith.

With Woodsmith and Vaughn providing the rhythm section, the other side of the stage is given over to multi-instrumentalist virtuosos Avril Smith and Ludiker. Smith takes most of the leads on her guitar and occasionally picks up a mandolin, while Ludiker wails on both mandolin and fiddle, keeping their sound man on his toes.

Ludiker and Smith co-founded Della Mae along with two other musicians back in 2009 as a vehicle for showcasing outstanding female bluegrass players and they’ve been going strong for fifteen years now, through multiple incarnations. Ludiker is the only member who has been there for the entire ride. Smith dropped out for a while after having her first child shortly after the band’s inception. Woodsmith joined a few years later and Vaughn came on about five years ago.

On Thursday, they offered fans a long look at that journey, playing “The Most” from their 2011 debut along with half a dozen songs yet to be released. Among them, “I Compare You to Everyone,” co-written by Vaughn and Brennan Leigh, was a stand-out. As was Smith’s tribute to that daughter whose birth caused her to temporarily take a leave of absence, “Out Running.” And Woodsmith’s “Magic Accident” sounds like a hit in the making.

Della Mae also gave the fans several recent favorites including a cover of Blind Melon’s “No Rain” and Woodsmith’s gorgeous tribute to the Shetland Folk Festival (“If you ever go, pack an extra liver”), “The Shetland Islands.” Another recent single, “Can’t Let Go” showed off Smith’s glorious rockabilly guitar.

There were other covers mixed in with originals, ranging from Merle Travis’s“16 Tons” to Neil Young’s “Ohio.” Two standouts from their last album – 2021’s Family Reunion – “Ride Away” and a cover of Gillian Welch’s “Dry Town” raised the Encore roof. And perhaps nothing brought more joy than Kimber and Avril jamming out on John Hartford’s classic show-off “You Don’t Have to Do That.”

“Well, you don’t have to do that – You don’t have to do that – You’re beautiful and you always come through…”

Della Mae has been coming through for fifteen years and shows no sign of slowing down. The quartet heads north for several shows in Boston and Maine at the end of this month before zigzagging the country later this year.

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