Cutting Through the Fog

There might not be more aptly named pickers at IBMA’s World of Bluegrass this year than the Foghorn Stringband. At Monday night’s showcase performance, the quartet’s fiddle tunes on steroids cut through the haze of the Nashville Convention Center ballroom and cleared the heads of listeners for the nontraditional acts to follow.

With newcomer guitarist Reeb Willms joining Caleb Klauder (mandolin, fiddle, guitar), Nadine Landry (bass) and Stephen “Sammy” Lind (fiddle, banjo guitar), the band ripped through a set of traditional Cajun tunes, Appalachian fiddle standards and original material.

But these aren’t cookie-cutter fiddle tunes like you hear at the weekly jam. With all the instruments and four strong voices, Foghorn kept things fresh with a seemingly endless series of combinations. The band even brought a twist to the one-microphone approach, opting for three seated players with just Nadine standing. You might think a seated band would lack energy. You’d be wrong.

The set was solid from start to finish, but several pieces rose above the rest. For me, the highlight was an original by Caleb, Just a Little, which he sang with Nadine. The song has a distinctly 1950s country swing feel that made it fit perfectly with the rest of the band’s repertoire. Another favorite was Down the River I Go, with all four pickers joining in on vocals. But with the band’s energy and drive, even childhood favorite Shortnin’ Bread came across as vibrant, thanks to the cross-tuned fiddles and harmonies.

There’s an explanation for the tight picking and blended voices. The Foghorn Stringband plays more than 300 dates a year, so Caleb, Nadine, Sammy and Reeb get lots of practice. But with all the energy evident on the showcase stage Monday night, it seemed like they were playing for the first time. Whatever their secret, they should patent it and sell it to help the rest of us cut through the fog.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.