The first time I saw the Nields was over 10 years ago, at Newport. I remember very little about that performance. I do remember that, for a shamefully long time, I used to confuse them with...Little Feat?! Yes, Little Feat. Could I have been so ignorant back then? The thing is, Little Feat played later that afternoon in Newport, and something about their music got tangled up in my head with the Nields'. Anyway, I saw the sisters perform a couple of times thereafter at Falcon Ridge and at First Night in Northampton. Then, this past summer, I saw them play at Falcon Ridge with the full band, and it was 45 minutes of pure up. So that primed me for their Iron Horse show.
I can't say that I saw 85 minutes of pure up in Northampton, but I certainly enjoyed myself. Nerissa and Katrina took the stage at about 20 past 7:00, introduced by Nerissa's husband. I had expected an opening act: according to the on-line schedule, Lucy Wainwright Roche was the opening act. I never found out why, but she was nowhere to be seen. Too bad. Anyway, the Nields sisters played a very relaxed set. It was so relaxed that Katrina's two children, young William and older Amelia (who was once declared "World's Cutest Baby" at Falcon Ridge), wandered on and off the stage more or less at will to cling to their mother, sit at her feet, run and dance around, and basically hang out. At the end of the set, Nerissa's husband brought their two children (much younger) onto the stage to join in.
The songs were a mix of new and old. After a short discussion about how wrongheaded she had been about the mother-child bond when she was younger, Nerissa led the sisters in a performance of "Merry Christmas, Mr. Jones" from the Bob on the Ceiling album. This is a song about a pregnant teenager in which the young woman, after she gives birth, declares that she has no feelings for the new baby. Beyond that, there was the classic "Best Black Dress," with Katrina doing her usual enthusiastic dancing that looked slightly awkward, as if her self-consciousness was intruding on her enthusiasm. Nerissa looked more comfortable on stage, perhaps because she was the one with the guitar. There was "Give Me a Clean Heart" and "This Train" from their newest album, Sister Holler. Katrina's daughter, Amelia, came on stage to do some Irish dancing, which moved Katrina to crouch and lean against the side of the stage, laughing her head off, as her sister strummed a suitable rhythm on the guitar. Later, she held Amelia in her arm while singing another song, her son William sitting at her feet, throwing a little piece of paper (gum wrapper, maybe?) up into the air.
Their harmonies were lovely, although I can't say I received much emotional kick from the performance. My favorite moments were when Dave Chalfant, Katrina's husband, was on stage to play some guitar. Those moments added a touch of heat, just when it was needed. Overall, it was a relaxed performance, as befitting a musical act that drew more heavily than most "contemporary folk" on the folk music tradition. I miss the band. But I like what has been left behind just fine.