Bluegrass Beyond Borders: Stone Bones & Bad Spaghetti from Portugal

Making music can be a lonely profession at times, given the fact that there’s often a lot of travel involved, considerable time spent away from home, and interaction with people don’t always relate to a musician’s MO.

Likewise, when you’re in a bluegrass or grassicana band in a country where those particular sounds are entirely alien to the native culture, it can naturally put you at odds with the local sensibilities.

That’s the scenario that Stone Bones & Bad Spaghetti find themselves in when they play to audiences in their native Portugal. They proudly bill themselves as the only bluegrass band in their home country.

“The bluegrass scene in Portugal is almost non-existent,” insists the band’s banjo player, Andre Dal. “I host the only bluegrass jam session in the country, which is once a month. Because it’s very hard to hear bluegrass in Portugal, almost no one knows what bluegrass is. Therefore, when people hear a glimpse of bluegrass, their first reaction is one of surprise. However after they get used to it, almost everyone really likes the sound that the bluegrass instruments make. It’s strange, but almost every gig we do starts at a slow pace and then ends with a very enthusiastic reaction from the audience.”

Dal says their music has become a mantra of sorts, one that holds a deeper meaning beyond simply the sound itself. “Bluegrass music is, for us, a way of life that inspires friendship between musicians and their audience,” he suggests. “Its approach encourages people to gather and unite at every level. When people hear bluegrass musicians performing on stage or in a jam, they naturally begin to relate to the music and the musicians. A bluegrass festival is a unique setting that allows people to see musicians, not as stars, but as normal people that just love to play and share their music.”

Over the course of their nearly decade long career, the band — Dal, Hildebrando Soares (guitar, lead vocals), Bruno Lourenço (mandolin, backing vocals) and Gil Pereira (bass) — have performed at a variety of festival gatherings, weddings, private parties and assorted venues throughout Portugal, as well as at bluegrass festivals in Spain, France, Scotland and Holland. The band has recorded three EP’s to date, each consisting of four songs apiece. They’re currently available on their bandcamp page.

Dal was initially inspired to pick up the banjo in 1997 after watching the movie Deliverance and subsequently exploring its soundtrack. “Although it was very hard to find bluegrass musicians here in Portugal, I was lucky enough to meet a guitar player who was very interested in learning bluegrass music, especially after hearing it played on the banjo,” he explains. “With his brother on washboard and Bruno on bass, we started our musical journey and formed the band in 2009.”

Over the years, a number of musicians have come and gone from the group’s ranks, helping to instill outside influences that have been incorporated into their basic bluegrass template. They’ve even managed to incorporate some “Fado,” a traditional style of Portuguese music associated with restaurants, cafes, and pubs dating back to the 1820s. They refer to the combination as “Fadograss” and have, on various occasions, featured a female Fado singers guesting with the band.

These days, the band’s repertoire consists mostly of a mixture of traditional bluegrass numbers, fiddle tunes, a bit of jazz and blues, as well as original songs sung in Portuguese, English, and in Spanish.

Nevertheless, the group remains true to its roots. “Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, and Doc Watson were, and still are, big influences on us, along with other pioneers of bluegrass,” Dal insists. “But as far as our main influences are concerned, we listen a lot to Tony Trischka, the Del McCoury Band, Jeff Scroggins & Colorado, among others. The list goes on and on.” 

As far as the name itself — an unusual handle by any description — Dal has a ready explanation. 

“It’s a funny story,” he says. “When our original guitar player and I decided to form the band, we were looking for a good name. It turned out that as I worked in place that’s called Pedroussos, a word that can be loosely translated as ‘Stonebones,’ and he lived in a place called Massama, which means ‘Bad Spaghetti.’ So we decided to call ourselves, Pedroussos & Massama, but in English, that means Stonebones & Bad Spaghetti.”

Either way, it appears to be a tasty combination.

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About the Author

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman has been a writer and reviewer for the better part of the past 20 years. He writes for the following publications — No Depression, Goldmine, Country Standard TIme, Paste, Relix, Lincoln Center Spotlight, Fader, and Glide. A lifelong music obsessive and avid collector, he firmly believes that music provides the soundtrack for our lives and his reverence for the artists, performers and creative mind that go into creating their craft spurs his inspiration and motivation for every word hie writes.