Prologue: This post was intended to appear at the Fusebox Blog, but since I was late getting in written, it got lost in the shuffle. Enjoy.
Imagine you live in the Apulia region of Italy during the 1600s. Your small village rests next to the Gulf of Taranto, which is situated at the bottom of Italy, just off the beautiful Ionian Sea. The summer months are coming to an end, and the gentle winds blowing in off the gulf have turned the nights crisp and chilly. You walk out after dusk to gather firewood, and as you grasp a dried log on the ground by the woodpile, you feel a sharp pain in your hand. Frighteningly, you catch a fleeting glimpse of a brown spider as it jumps from your hand and scurries away back into the woodpile. You clutch your hand to your chest in terror. One word pops into your mind: “Tarantula.”
You immediately know that your only hope of survival resides in performing the ancient Tarantella. By dancing the dance of the Tarantula, or Tarantella, you have a chance at excising the spider’s toxin from your body. You need drums. Tambourines. Musicians to play them. And to dance until your feverish and manic movements purge the toxic venom from your body. It’s your only hope.
On Thursday night, as part of Fusebox’s Digestible Feats series, Graham Reynolds brought the Tarantella to Austin in an event that combined southern Italian cuisine and a magnificent musical performance, all of which he had aptly titled “Night of the Tarantula.” To create this event, Reynolds partnered with Lucky Sibilla, of Lucky’s Puccias, to design the food. For the musical portion, Reynolds collaborated with Utah Hamrick and Jeremy Bruch, his partners from The Golden Arm Trio, Adam Sultan, and Alexis Buffum.
Reynolds had several traditional Italian tambourines on hand (who even knew there was such a thing) and had composed an evening of Tarantella-inspired music. And wow. What music. The tambourines and drums created a manic, primal rhythm. Imagine, if you will, the manic energy of an 80s-era Alex Van Halen drum solo, mixed with a healthy dose of traditional Italian folk music, and topped off with the mystical sounds of an aboriginal drum circle. Imagine all of that, and then turn it up to eleven. Honestly, you still won’t be able to match the majesty of the performance by Reynolds and his guests, but at least you’ll have kept yourself busy in the attempt.
As the guests entered the sprawling Fusebox HUB, Hank Cathey, The Digestible Feats ringleader, greeted us with a wonderful Campari aperitif, and then he graciously pointed us towards a table overflowing with starters. Grilled veggies, eggplant slices topped with marinara and olives, and all manner of savory deliciousness meant to prepare our taste buds for the feast to come.
Our tables had been prepared with fresh flatbread, various dipping sauces, fresh olives, flavored oils, and vinegars. The flatbreads completely covered our plates. Seriously. The things must have been 18 inches in diameter. Antipasto consisted of stuffed portabella mushrooms and an artichoke salad. The artichoke salad was lovely, but those mushrooms were fantastic. They were meaty and garlicky, and I couldn’t get enough.
In my mind, the third and fourth courses were the real stand-outs. Lucky served us his fabulous Puccias, stuffed with grilled red and yellow peppers that were smokey and piquant, grilled onions that were slightly sweet with just a naughty hint of bitterness, and slices of tomatoes. Then he served fava beans and broccolini alla paesena, a dish he called “A Peasant’s Dinner.” The multi-course meal ended with a sweet puccia stuffed with peanut butter and jelly, and topped with a banana slice. A glass of Limoncello garnished with a slice of strawberry accompanied the dessert.
I loved the meal. A wonderful culinary performance by Lucky. But I found the musical performance by Reynolds and his fellow musicians mesmerizing. Utah Hamrick held and strummed his upright bass like a wonton lover, and Jeremy Bruch played drums as if they were an enemy that needed subduing. Adam Sultan strummed the guitar with stoic confidence, and Alexis Buffum looked lost in the otherworldly sounds of her violin. And Graham Reynolds. A sight to behold on the piano. A true master. When Reynolds really gets going, his whole body pistons up and down on his piano bench, and his long, straight hair follows his up and down movement, creating the illusion that he’s hovering over his instrument, and ultimately, the audience as well.
We all suffered from the bite of the Tarantula that night, but thanks to Graham Reynolds and his group of musicians, the wild music of the Tarentella saved us all.confidence, and Alexis Buffum looked lost in the otherworldly sounds of her violin. And Graham Reynolds. A sight to behold on the piano. A true master. When Reynolds really gets going, his whole body pistons up and down on his piano bench, and his long, straight hair follows his up and down movement, creating the illusion that he’s hovering over his instrument, and ultimately, the audience as well.