Ryan Gustafson, Thomas Costello
In a Carrboro Barn
Thursday, March 20, 2014

The idea of two folk soloists performing within a tiny barn in Carrboro—a barn owned by members of the neo-roots trio Mipso, nonetheless—was irresistible. You just had to make sure not to miss the narrow winding driveway leading up to the place. The beer was free, so there wasn’t much to complain about, except something that wafted sulfurous fumes strong enough to dominate the ashy notes emanating from a substantial bonfire near the barn stage. No one seemed mind that too much, though.

Thomas Costello, who performs beguiling indie pop with his band, The Human Eyes, operated in troubadour mode. Debuting a set of recent compositions, he plumbed the vagaries of human attachment in a voice of quiet strength. At one point, Costello mentioned Bob Dylan, but he didn’t really have to; When a man stands before you strumming a guitar and singing elliptical songs, you think of Dylan. Costello’s new songs value simplicity through a few chords and changes accented with unexpected lyrical shifts. Ryan Gustafson, the ostensible headliner, sat nearby, taking in the songs intently.

Gustafson, a virtually omnipresent figure within the local music scene, is still thinking of last autumn, when he rode the rails of the West Coast armed with little other than a banjo. He played some of the striking, austere songs his trip yielded in a concise-yet-effective showcase of his talents, especially his gift for playing stringed instruments. He added a welcome layer of grit to Donovan’s “Colours” with deliriously rich slide guitar accompaniment that called the Stones to mind and prompted me to stargaze.

The show came at the behest of organizers of ConvergeNC as well as members of Mipso, who will perform at the upcoming, two-year-old, Southern-centric music festival at UNC. By spotlighting Carrboro heroes like Costello and Gustafson, the organizers hoped to raise the event’s profile beyond the campus and past the three days in which it occurs. Judging from both the warm response and respectful silence of last night’s gathering, they seem to have the right idea.