The pair behind Mandolin Orange didn’t play it safe when it came time to record their fifth album.
Not only were they bound to a one-week window of recording time, afforded to them by a small break in their constant touring schedule, Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz continue to show steady evolution as artists on each new album. On 2016’s “Blindfaller,” the two experiment with vocal harmonies that call to mind folk and country alongside the bluegrass that the duo is most often known for.
With this experimentation came the biggest success of their eight-year-old careers. And along with that success has come opportunities to perform in front of crowds that they could only have dreamed of just a couple of years ago. First came the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., which has became a status symbol for the acts who are asked to play in front of its throngs of concert-goers. That was followed shortly thereafter with a set at the Newport Folk Festival.
Arguably, the duo’s biggest performance to date won’t take them nearly as far away from their Chapel Hill base of operations. Mandolin Orange is playing its first arena show as one of the supporting acts for The Avett Brothers’ New Year’s Eve bash at PNC Arena in Raleigh on Sunday night. The concert marks the second time that the Avett Brothers of Concord have brought their annual New Year’s show to the Triangle after rotating the show in other locales.
For Marlin, hearing the duo’s vocals bounce off the walls of the arena was something he never could have dreamed of before now.
“I figured if I ever played inside the PNC, it would be as an arena football player or something,” the musician laughs. “Who ever thought one day I’d be playing mandolin out there?
“We played (Colorado’s) Red Rocks Amphitheatre earlier this year, and that was one of the bigger (venues) we had ever played up to that point,” he said. “And it was sort of the same thing (we’re expecting from the PNC Arena.) You hit one note, and it feels like your head is inside a piano or something. There is just this huge reverberation.”
For some bluegrass outfits, a venue as large as PNC Arena would seem an insurmountable challenge. Arenas of its size have never been kind to musicians who lean on acoustics for their sound, often being difficult on sound techs to find the right mix where the instruments and vocals don’t drown each other out in a cavernous indoor space.
But Mandolin Orange’s “Blindfaller” prepared them for such circumstances. The duo brought in a full band for the entire recording process, which led to their live show featuring more bodies onstage as well.
“We’ve been doing a full band show for almost two years now so that’ll help,” Marlin said. “I think (the show is) going to end up being pretty nice. It’s fun to be able to play around with the wide open space that you get from playing a venue the size of PNC Arena, though we’ve never actually played in a place as big as that.”
He finishes his thought with a laugh. “I’m hoping it’ll make our voices sound a little bigger than they usually do,” he said.