Music » This Little Underground

Peek inside new Milk District venue Iron Cow and Kaia Kater proves why she could be the most relevant folk artist today

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NEW VENUE PEEK: IRON COW

You can read my review of Rocko English and .org online, but the bigger story is this fresh spot. You'll see something like this from me an unusual amount this year because of the mass infusion of new venues due to contend in the near future. It's an unprecedented bumper crop that also includes Blackstar, Odd Jobs, the Vanguard, Soundbar, the Veranda Live and whatever's going to happen at the old Copper Rocket, and it's a tectonic development that's exciting enough just in itself.

First out of the gate is Iron Cow, the brand-new Milk District hang just opened by the Sandwich Bar ownership. Located next door in a much bigger space, the warehouse-chic Cow is the most cavernous room on the typically small-scale strip. With its unvarnished art edge, though, its aesthetic is in perfect step with the young new Orlando – it's Milk District through and through.

It's a beer bar, with a small food menu even. But most notable is that it seems poised to feature more live music events – maybe more than the DJ-centric Sandwich Bar – with a real stage and all. Already, happenings that have popped up on its calendar include dueling pianos with Lounge Diggaz and events by noted scene-makers like Body//Talk and Ugly Orange's Nicole Dvorak.

One thing about the open warehouse setup, though, is that the hard materiality of the space (concrete floor, block walls) can give the sound less-than-warm garage acoustics. It wasn't a distraction, but it could be improved. A nice touch, however, are the gender-neutral bathrooms.

With the setting and the space, Iron Cow has the elements to be both an anchor and a magnet for the district, which should be hot news and a dinner bell for those enterprising culture-makers looking for more clay to shape the scene.

KAIA KATER, THE PLAZA LIVE, JAN. 17

The young Kaia Kater was the latest feature in the second season of the bright, intersectional Women in Song series presented by the Orlando Philharmonic. On paper alone – a biracial Québécois of African-Caribbean descent – Kater comes with the automatic potential to be one of the most distinctive and current figures in folk music today. But it's her talent that makes it actual.

This appearance was Kater's first time to Florida, professional or otherwise. For it, she performed a set of songs ranging from original to traditional to ones written by family members. With just accompanist Andrew Ryan on double bass, the glow of her old-time banjo style and jazz-worthy voice had appropriate space to radiate. As is the signature of the Women in Song series, she got the orchestra treatment with a four-string quartet from the Orlando Phil (including conductor Eric Jacobsen himself) to give her full wing for a four-song stretch.

While many take the same exact tools and spin cute, fresh-faced sugar – or worse, novelty – Kater keeps the haunt of the hills in the marrow of her work, no doubt the result of her years spent studying music in the heart of Appalachia. Her grasp of the American roots is deep and authentic, capturing not just its simple grace but also its harrowing undercurrent. Although undeniably fresh in sound, her music's got old, ungentrified soul. And like the best, truest folk music has always done, it mines the diamond that emerges from the crush of this mortal coil.

Forget about what the predominantly white male face of popular folk music tells you. From her seemingly modern lens as a person of color, Kater actually has more access to the traditional folk perspective that comes from the real rather than the ideal. And she aims it point-blank at contemporary street-level social issues like in "Rising Down," a song influenced by Black Lives Matter that she dedicated here to gone-too-young activist Erica Garner.

In today's landscape, Kater's voice isn't just timely, it's necessary. Being young, black and female makes her a triple threat of relevance. But being excellent is what makes her an imperative. And in easily one of the best editions of the Women in Song series yet, Kater showed that she's as next as it gets.

baolehuu@orlandoweekly.com