Larry Keel has been a prominent fixture both in, and on the fringes of the bluegrass mainstream this past few years, but his place on the spectrum has been hard to pin down. Here he’s doing jamgrass shows, performing the sort of extended format piece that is a highlight of the style, and there he forms a bluegrass band, Natural Bridge, and has one of his songs cut by The Del McCoury Band. He has further clouded any attempts at pigeonholing his music by a set of brother duets and flatpick standards with his older sibling, Gary, entitled The Keel Brothers, Vol 1.
With Natural Bridge, Larry incorporated his unique, growly vocal delivery with his equally distinctive guitar style, inside the standard bluegrass ensemble. Their material has been a mix of traditional music with his own compositions, and their tour stops tend to be centered around venues and festivals that support more progressive acoustic music. Folks here in southwestern VA, though, recall Larry as a long-time Galax veteran, who learned and refined his craft in the same muddy fields as have many of the leading lights in mainstream bluegrass music today.
When we learned that original Natural Bridge banjo picker Andy Thorn would be leaving the group this summer, we wondered whether Larry would continue touring with a bluegrass group, or perhaps take his music in a new direction. The answer arrived this past week, when it was announced that Jason Flournoy, late of the popular jamgrass band Shanti Groove, will start up with Natural Bridge the second weekend in September when they play The Pour House in Charleston, SC.
Alt-acoustic and jamgrass fans may associate Jason with CO, since that was Shanti Groove’s home base, but he is a native of the southeastern US, learning to play banjo in western NC. It was here that he first met current Natural Bridge mandolinist Mark Schimick, with whom he shared the stage in a band known as Sassagrass before spending time with the Dixie Slam Mob prior to joining up with the Shantis.
In addition to Larry on guitar, Jason on banjo and Mark on mandolin, Natural Bridge includes Jenny Keel on bass.