• Matt Heckler, the opener for the night, playing a haunting tune in a minor key.

The Devil Makes Three are no stranger to Dallas, as they’ve visited annually for the past few years. This year, like the last, they performed at Trees in Deep Ellum. The opening act this time at Trees was Matt Heckler, a banjo and fiddle player that also effortlessly entertained the crowd in between songs, such as treating his banjo like a pet dog commanding it to “sit” and “stay” when he changed to his fiddle, as well as experimental method of combining Ricola cough drops and spirits to get over a sickness. His energy and emotion on the stage evoked moods of folk, punk, Americana, and country-blues, as well as the possibility of supernatural assistance in how fast and deliberate he could play his instruments. His skill was especially apparent when those hauntingly beautiful and eerie minor chords came from out of his fiddle work with his final song, which apparently is yet to be officially released.

Matt Heckler, the opener for the night, playing a haunting tune in a minor key.

Our headliners started off with “What Will You Give (In Exchange for Your Soul)” and gracefully sped up tempo for “There’ll Be a Jubilee,” both cheerful in melody and upbeat in tune – perfect to get the crowd light and lively for the rest of the night.

MorganEve Swain and Cooper McBean having a fun time, each keeping up with the other during "What Would You Give (In Exchange for Your Soul)."
Another shot of Pete and MorganEve playing strings alongside one-another, showcasing their ink as well. 2020 marks the 10 year anniversary of Brown Bird's Devil Dancing, the album art of which can be seen on Swain's right arm.

Back in August of 2019, The Devil Makes Three’s hauntingly elegant upright bass player Lucia Turino announced on Instagram that she would not be able to go on tour for the foreseeable future, due to conditions she didn’t and shouldn’t have to disclose to the public. It was bittersweet but striking, then, to see MorganEve Swain on-stage instead. Swain is a long-time friend and fellow string musician, most known for her work as part of the bands Brown Bird as well as The Huntress and Holder of Hands. This combination felt like a dream-team. Lucia’s stylized slap-playing, rhythm and in-synch grace that accompanied her bass playing was dearly missed, but Swain did a great job in filling that void with her own energy and skill with the instrument. Along with Swain as an alteration from the original trio of The Devil Makes Three, was Stefan Amidon on percussions. A percussionist in the past for acts such as the Sweetback Sisters and the Starry Mountain Singers, he debuted with the band with the release of their newest studio recorded album to date, Chains are Broken, which was also their first-time involving percussion as a main element into their music. All these artists on stage demonstrated got history, obvious music chemistry, and truly enjoy touring together.

Pete Bernhard and MorganEve Swain performing alongside one another.

It felt full circle when the band went into “Paint My Face,” as the last time I’d seen them live was two years ago when that tune was premiered on tour as a brand-new song. Following that was a song lead and sung by Cooper McBean, which was both unexpected but a fresh tune before taking the crowd back in time with “Drunken Hearted Man,” originally sung by Robert Johnson. The combination of “Black Irish,” “Aces and Twos,” and “Do Wrong Right” sent the audience into a revelry of hooting, stomping, and hollering as if we were all friends and family at a wedding party. To top of the night, the band concluded with a true classic, and for many the song that got first-time listeners hooked to this group: “Old Number 7.”

Majestic appearance of Cooper McBean on the banjo coming out from behind a tree onstage.

The band gracefully left through the back with a crescendo in applause left in their wake. Their friendly waves goodbye did not waiver the crowd from demanding an encore. No one in that crowd was prepared for the musical resurgence as both The Devil Makes Three and Matt Heckler trotted back onstage, and the crowd was blessed with a wonderful combined performance of “St. James.”