There may be no more celebrated band in modern bluegrass than Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen. The group — Solivan (vocals, mandolin, guitar, fiddle) Mike Munford (banjo), Chris Luquette (guitar), and Jeremy Middleton (bass) — are the recipients of any number of accolades from the International Bluegrass Association, among them, the award for Instrumental Group of the Year 2016. That’s in addition to the numerous nominations its individual band members have received on their own. A Grammy nomination for their 2014 album, Cold Spell, also adds to their wealth of recognition, no small accomplishment for a band that’s not even a decade old.
Even so, despite their standing in the bluegrass community, Solivan refuses to be typecast one way or another. The band’s latest effort on Compass Records, If You Can’t Stand the Heat, demonstrates yet again their willingness to bend boundaries by covering both traditional songs and music that falls into a more modern context. Of particular note is the album’s interesting if unexpected cover of Steely Dan’s, Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.
“We play traditional bluegrass music, but we do other things too, although it’s all done with the bluegrass instrumentation,” Solivan notes. “Bluegrass is still a strong influence on us, but that’s not all we do. I just don’t want to be pigeonholed.”
Still, whatever form it takes, it’s all too obvious that Solivan was destined to make music. That always seemed a certainty. However what seemed less apparent was what direction he would go in. He grew up in a family whose influences drew him in different directions. His mother’s side leaned towards classical music, while his father’s preferred the traditional trappings of old time country music. He himself veered towards bluegrass early on, but while attending college at the University of Alaska, he opted to play with the school’s symphony, even while moonlighting as a mandolin player in a local bar band.
He took his musical mantra yet another step further when he joined the U.S. Navy in 2003 and was subsequently assigned to serve in a military band called Country Current, a ceremonial outfit that performed bluegrass ands country music at official events and receptions. After six years, Solivan received an honorable discharge, and rather than re-up, decided to pursue his own musical path. His first solo album, Selfish Tears, was made while he was still in the Navy, but suddenly he was free to form his own outfit and perform full time.
The name of that band, Dirty Kitchen, reflects his love of gourmet cuisine and the fact that he also enjoys preparing mega meals for family and friends. He notes that he’s now exploring options for a podcast of some sort that could combine his love of cooking and making music.
Yet, in a very real sense, Solivan has plenty on his plate. He’s released six albums over the course of his career — three on his own and three with the band. In addition, he occasionally tours with Jerry Douglas as part of Douglas’ band, the Earls of Leceister.
“Music was always a part of my upbringing, but I didn’t realize at the time how fortunate I was to be in that environment,” Solivan says of his musical journey thus far. “I have a different perspective and appreciation for it now.” It’s paid off in other ways as well. Bluegrass Today once cited Dirty Kitchen as “the best instrumental unit in bluegrass these days.”
Nevertheless, Solivan remains adamant about his refusal to be confined to anyone else’s expectations.
“I don’t want to have to live up to what other people might think we should be,” Solivan insists. “I just want to be able to pursue my own musical journey. I’m happy for the recognition, and for the fact that people are listening. I feel like if I do things honestly, there will be people who listen and there will be those who don’t listen. The people who come to our shows are the people who want to listen, and those are the people I want to play for.”