Concert Review - Limeliters at Lancaster, January 31, 1998

by Harold W. Wood, Jr.

I know a lot of older Limeliters fans who have just assumed that with Lou Gottlieb's passing in 1996, that the LImeliters too are dead and gone. Not so!

From the rousing opening set of "Lonesome Traveler/Wayfarin' Stranger" through the splendid finish of "Circles", The new Limeliters still exude the Old Limeliters sound -- and better.

I know, the old fans will call it sacrilege. How can anyone be better than the classic combination of Lou Gottlieb, Alex Hassilev, and Glenn Yarbrough? But listen and see! They still play "There's a Meetin' Here Tonight" with verve and vigor that sounds as fresh as it first played decades ago.

The new Limeliters line-up still has Alex Hassilev, joined by Rick Dougherty and Bill Zorn. Rick has played with the group since 1990, so really he is an old hand, even though he's on only one published Limeliters album so far. Bill Zorn is a virtuoso banjoist, formerly with the Kingston Trio. Bill has the unenviable task of trying to fill Lou's shoes to some extent, since that is the slot he's replacing. (Lou died in 1996.) But the roles are now scrambled a bit. The group doesn't depend on just one of the group members for the comedy anymore as they did when Lou was around; now the truth comes out - they all turn out to be splendid comedians. And musically they're scrambled as well; Rick has begun playing the bass guitar to replace Lou's stand-up bass, and Alex plays less banjo in deference to Bill. But they all sing together with that distinctive Limeliters sound - the harmony blending and -- what can I say? -- bellowing! - all around the concert hall.

You know it's the Limeliters when they play "City of New Orleans." You know its the Limeliters when they play "Gari Gari" and "Power and Glory." You remember the olden days when they sang "Malaquena Salerosa" and "Whiskey in the Jar." You remember the days with Red Grammer when they play "Harmony," "Singing for the Fun," "Danny Boy," and "Zen Gospel Singing." You realize that Rick Dougherty has already created Limeliters classics when they play "Until We Get it Right" and "Global Carnival." (You can only laugh hilariously when Rick sings, "Maria" - you'll have to go to the concert to know why!) Whether the group is playing old ballads like "Risin' of the Moon," "Last Night I had the Strangest Dream," or newer folk classics like Bill Staines' "Place in the Choir," you know you've got the Limeliters ringing in your ears. Of course, they played "America the Beautiful," and "This Land is Your Land" as only the Limeliters can!

Yes, the Limeliters trademark sound is still there, every ounce of it, and perhaps with even more ooooomph. While some of this conclusion might be attributed to a live performance as compared to recordings, as a devoted Limeliters listener I can tell you that there is something in that trademark sound that NOBODY has heard anywhere else, and this version of the Limeliters has it with abundance.

The secret? Bill told me after the concert that Lou "wrote everything down," and the group is still faithful to the unique sound Lou's arrangements created. Bill was the first to say that Lou would be a hard act to follow. But my observation is that while the old Limeliters were somewhat dominated by Lou's comedic personality, the new Limeliters have converted that personality from one person to the entire group as a whole. The Limeliters now are really a group, a trio of splendid musicians and entertainers, and I have to say this: they have NEVER sounded better!

Before playing the encore, the group featured Bill Zorn on his own composition, "Georgia Blues," which foretells even more great things for the future.

So, if you are an old Limeliters fan who just can't believe the group can be that good anymore, you better come to a concert and learn differently. And if you've never heard a Limeliters concert before, schedule one for yourself now or you will die having only half-lived!

Last update: June 16, 1998