Granted, Gangstagrass offers the unexpected. The band’s highly unlikely fusion of bluegrass and rap/hip hop results in a sound that may seem entirely alien to fans of both genres. Consequently, it takes an open mind. However, once the band is experienced first hand, it all seems to gel.
Their hour and forty minute live performance at the Shed, which took place this past Friday night (8/19/22), attracted a friendly and frenzied crowd, and although the audience was smaller by comparison to most shows at a venue that generally favors bands of a Southern rock variety, the enthusiasm was palatable throughout. The five piece combo — consisting of Rench (vocals, guitar, beats), Dan Whitener (banjo, mandolin, harmonica, vocals), Brian Farrow (fiddle, vocals), R-SON the Voice of Reason (vocals), and Dolio the Sleuth (vocals) — operates well in synch, often starting a song with a banjo or fiddle-driven melody, only to have the rappers take center stage and subsequently dominate the proceedings. While purists may resent the intrusion, the Shed crowd enjoyed every offering, dancing deliriously with arms outstretched while keeping time to the rhythms. On a song like Put Your Hands Up High, they simply did as they were told. Likewise, the fact that the Shed is adjacent to a Harley Davidson dealership made songs such as Bound To Ride andRide With You wholly appropriate as well.
If one were to measure the impact of each element, both portions of the proceedings seemed equally dominant. Both Dolio and R-SON used their respective turns at the microphone to parlay messages about racial justice and the need to find common cause. Freedom and Do Better were especially emphatic in that regard, and while Rench, Farrow, and Whitener seemed all too willing to cede the spotlight, they did their part to keep a persistent pace with the drive and delivery. While it may seem odd that banjo and fiddle are the instruments that propel the proceedings, ultimately the combination really clicks.
To those ends, Gangstagrass can be credited not only with imagination and ingenuity, but dedication and determination. Indeed, it takes all the above to find common ground between two such strikingly disparate genres. Whitener admitted as much when he said to the crowd, “I bet you’ve never heard music like this.” Likewise, when R-Son declared, “You may not like it or understand it, but I am what I am,” while leading into the aptly-named What I Am, and challenged the audience to show their understanding.
The strategy worked. Judging from the long lines of fans that were there to greet the band at the merch table after the show, Gangstagrass clearly succeeded in gaining a legion of local devotees even as they dared to be so different.
(Yours truly was especially impressed when they integrated my name into one of their rapid-fire raps. Clearly, they have a ready reserve when it comes to shoring up the spontaneity.)
The trio that opened the show, Tejon Street Corner Thieves, did their best to warm up the crowd and provide a proper set-up for an exuberant evening. Hailing from Colorado, they reflected the fact that seemingly anything goes, enticing the crowd to make some noise with songs about drinking and generally getting high. (Little wonder that one of their songs is simply titled Whiskey.) Nevertheless, their rousing and rowdy approach — conveyed by banjo, guitar and stand-up bass — falls within the bounds of bluegrass. That said, their take on the Cab Calloway standard, Minnie the Moocher, gave them cause to pierce some parameters as well.