Watchhouse, the duo of singer-songwriter Andrew Marlin and multi-instrumentalist Emily Frantz, has been making roots music for over a decade, formerly under the moniker Mandolin Orange. They are sometimes called a “bluegrass duo,” but their music has also been characterized as folk and Americana. From North Carolina, Marlin and Frantz are clearly influenced the traditional Appalachian mountain music of their home state, but they’re not strictly acoustic traditionalists; their band includes an electric guitar and drums.
In addition to those instrumental departures from the traditional folk/bluegrass mold, Watchhouse is also influenced by singer-songwriters, and the content of their lyrics often deals with more personal and contemplative material. Andrew wrote “Late September,” a paean to the changing of the seasons, about losing his mother when he was 18. Songs like “My Brother, My Keeper” have a dark, almost gothic quality.
While Watchhouse certainly follows its own path, there’s still a deep connection to traditional music styles. They play instrumentals, something you wouldn’t see from most Americana bands and artists, which, being influenced most by Bob Dylan, emphasize lyrics. Watchhouse opened a show at Wolf Trap on July 7 with an instrumental number, and they later played “Coming Down from Green Mountain,” which Andrew wrote on the last day of Vermont’s Green Mountains music festival.
The natural world is a heavy influence on Watchhouse’s music. Their new album, out next month, includes “Beautiful Flowers,” a song that Emily wrote after hitting a butterfly with her car. Other songs in Wednesday’s set explored this theme: “Turtle Dove and Crow,” “Wildfire” (which the crowd applauded when they began playing), and “The Wolves.”
Watch the official music video for “Better Way” by Watchhouse on YouTube:
While they had a backing band, the core of Watchhouse is Andrew and Emily. Late in the set, the backing band left the stage, and they played a couple numbers as a duo, after which the band gradually rejoined them.
Emily and Andrew didn’t appear the least bit phased by Wolf Trap’s post-pandemic setup, with social distancing limiting the capacity of the venue. The park is still pretty spread out, so when, early in the show, an audience member tried to call out the band, Andrew explained that, while he had no idea what was being said, he did very much appreciate the enthusiasm. He was able to make out a later comment that complimented his mustache; previously, he had a full beard.
In one of the evening’s more amusing moments, Emily bemoaned her choice of a full-length cotton outfit. I’d been rather lucky that all of my outdoor shows this summer had taken place on unusually temperate evenings, but Wednesday was a typical muggy July night, which could only have been that much hotter under the stage lights.
Make sure to pick up Watchhouse’s new album next month, and don’t sleep on this summer at Wolf Trap — they have some great shows coming up!
Here are some photos of Watchhouse performing at Wolf Trap on July 7, 2021. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Vock.