Orlando Fringe 2017 review: 'There Ain't No More: The Death of a Folk Singer'

Writer-performer Willi Carlisle is a huge, hulking man in a backwoods plaid-and-overalls ensemble, and when he begins his show by ritualistically applying a grotesque old-age mask as starts rambling in a gravelly Arkansas accent, you may be forgiven for fearing you've walked into a chainsaw massacre movie. But at the Fringe, first impressions can be deceptive, and after a few moments you'll discover that There Ain't No More: The Death of a Folk Singer is one of the miracles of this year's Festival; a poetic celebration of America's original art form that is simultaneously ancient and avant-garde.

In this one-man operetta directed by Joseph Fletcher, Carlisle relives the late 20th century, from post-WWII to the Vietnam era, through the eyes of a reclusive rural raconteur. He weaves authentic American music, including joyful square dances and jarring murder ballads, into an epic ode to a vanishing touchstone of our culture, while simultaneously making a solid argument that folk songs are our best historical document of underclass concerns.

Carlisle has a gifted touch with the fiddle and accordion alike, and his juggling banjo tricks are a hootenanny and a half. But it's his rapturously lyrical script, stuffed with evocative homespun imagery that you could spend a lifetime unpacking, that makes this show the most pleasant surprise of my Fringe so far. Even if you formerly felt that folk music is "boring," as Carlisle's character claims, There Ain't No More will make you a true believer.

There Ain't No More: The Death of a Folk Singer
Purple Venue
Wednesday, May 17, 9:30 PM
Saturday, May 20, 8:30 PM
Sunday, May 21, 10:45 PM
Wednesday, May 24, 9:00 PM
Friday, May 26, 5:30 PM
Saturday, May 27, 7:15 PM
Sunday, May 28, 4:15 PM

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