When I met Elizabeth Fagan ’14 and Hannah Goad ’14 this fall, they were a loveable guitar-ukulele duo performing under the name Lili and the Dirty Moccasins. While their performance together was quite good, they were determined to find other musicians to fill out their lineup. This dream materialized with a bang as Fagan and Goad hit the Lodge 1 stage for Homebrew last Thursday, March 20, with six other musicians. It was an ambitious undertaking. After hearing from Fagan that they would have eight people on stage for some of their songs, I knew that it had the chance to be an incredible performance.
Before the show, I checked the lineup that Lili and the Dirty Moccasins had posted on Facebook, and what I saw only affirmed my belief. Fagan and Goad had recruited many well-known musicians from the College of William and Mary music community to join them for what they described as a “hootenanny.” Some of their additions included Ian “E-man” Lewis ’14 on saxophone and Christian Northover ’14 on percussion, two talented musicians whom I had seen play with the Ten Name Band as well as with a jazz band called Mary and the Williams. Charlotte Jones ’14, a well-established singer-songwriter who has performed at her own share of Homebrews, was also set to join their ranks. Notable other names included Aaron Stapel ’17, a member of the Stairwells, on violin; Stewart Baldwin ’14 on the banjo; and Rachel Hyneman ’15 on the upright bass.
Fagan, Goad and company took to the stage around 8:30 p.m. in true folk band fashion. Only their voices were amplified, their instruments relying solely on the energy that they put into them to reach the ears of the audience. They began with a lively take on the White Stripes’ classic “We’re Going to Be Friends.” The Dirty Moccasins left enough of the arrangement intact for the crowd to feel comfortable singing along while still managing to make it their own. They followed the cover with a beautifully crafted original which showed off what I believe is the characteristic that is going to spell success for this band: Despite the fact that there were eight people onstage, everyone was able to find their place in the arrangement. This song featured a clever violin melody played by Stapel and a saxophone solo by Lewis. In addition to the two solos, each musician had room in the arrangement to showcase their individual talent. It is this interplay of individual showmanship and cohesive musical texture that make Lili and the Dirty Moccasins a pleasure to hear.
A perfect example of this phenomenon is the vocal performance of Charlotte Jones ’14. Jones has a versatile voice, characteristic of a front woman, which can be as powerful as Brandi Carlile or as soft as Laura Marling. I was not sure what role she would play in a band that already had two lead singers, especially since she was not playing guitar on many of the songs. However, she used her vocal power to tackle high-reaching harmonies with incredible confidence. Her performance was downright impressive during original songs such as “Against All Odds,” in which she added yet another layer to the already luscious wall of sound which the band created. Some other individual high points of the show included a bass solo from Hyneman and a section of harmony featuring Stapel on violin and Fagan on the accordion.
In addition to the showcase of individual talent, the songs themselves were expertly crafted. Out of the 14-song set list, only four were covers, leaving plenty of room for Fagan and Goad to showcase their songwriting strengths. Their songs ranged from loveable upbeat foot-stompers to haunting pieces with thought-provoking lyrics. One of my personal favorites from their original repertoire is called “The Pirate Song.” Written primarily by Goad, this endearing ditty starts with the line, “If I were a pirate, I would steal your heart away.” It is this sort of quirky lyric that makes this group so appealing. The song showcases Goad’s warm voice, and its catchy melody makes you want to sing along even after only hearing the chorus once. It definitely stood out as a highlight in their set. Another standout among their originals is called “Sweet Sweet.” This song is Fagan’s chance to show off her unique vocal style which would not sound entirely out of place on a vinyl from the 1940s. However, she takes this classic sound and places it in a modern context, creating a juxtaposition that leaves the listener wanting more.
Not only did Lili and the Dirty Moccasins sound like a seasoned group, they acted like one as well. Every musician exuded confidence, and it was plain to see that they were all having the time of their lives. With her signature tambourine strapped to her leg, Fagan played her songs with every bit of emotion she could muster, and there may have only been a combined ten seconds when Goad was not smiling. They were ecstatic while onstage, and the crowd certainly fed off their energy.
For these reasons and countless more, Lili and the Dirty Moccasins are a must-see in the Williamsburg music scene. Your next chance to see them is next Friday, April 4, from 8:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. at Aromas.