Hearing the name “The Quietest Show on Earth,” I immediately thought it was a reference to this “Battle of the Gentle Bands” Portlandia sketch. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that “The Quietest Show on Earth” was an entirely more earnest and assumedly less ironic proposition featuring musicians Andrew Bird and Tift Merritt.
Sponsored by corporate granola bar giant Nature Valley [insert hems and haws about “the corporate machine” here], Bird and Merritt performed a concert described as an “ultra-intimate acoustic performance to celebrate America’s national parks.”
You had me at “ultra-intimate.”
While the whole thing is essentially a plug for Nature Valley, it’s a pretty darn cool plug. Nature Valley held a sweepstakes with five winners. Those five winners could each bring one guest with them to hike into Joshua Tree National Park in October 2013 for a personal concert from Bird and Merritt. They filmed the whole thing, created a live album, and then offered the content on their site for everyone to enjoy. The website now serves as a platform to direct listeners to donate to the National Parks Conservation Association.
Bird and Tift’s performance is everything you’d expect it to be (re: quiet) and more. Bird, clad in a dapper hat and a bandana, introspectively plays his violin in every which way: strumming, plucking, wailing, etc. In the absence of his regular looping machines, Bird’s trademark whistling takes a central role, much to the confusion, I’m sure, of local fauna.
A Bunson to Bird’s Beaker, Merritt provides much-needed melodic and rhythmic stability to Bird’s sometimes-overwhelming invention. Her vocal harmonies and guitar strumming both soften and strengthen the performance.
Illustrating their different styles, Bird remarked before the show, “I’m always into new ways of playing, and to play in an atmosphere that’s acoustically different.” In contrast, Merritt said, “I think the desert is such a stark, no nonsense kind of place, and it’s nice to play music in that kind of environment.”
It turns out that the desert is a nice environment to watch and listen to people play music, too. Spend nearly an hour hanging out with Bird, Merritt, and about ten of your newest friends observing dusk fall on the Mojave Desert and listening to this truly “ultra-intimate” show. You can also click on the link on the top right corner to download some of the music for free (though donations are encouraged). Turn it up.