Live at Sonoma State – 11/4/73 — Old & In The Way

A true supergroup of sorts that pursued pure bluegrass long before that genre entered the mainstream, Old & In The Way were comprised of a veritable who’s who of pickers and singers. With Jerry Garcia (banjo, vocals), Vasser Clements (fiddle, vocal), David Grisman (mandolin, vocals), Peter Rowan (guitar, vocals), and John Kahn (bass), with Jack Elliott guesting on two of the tracks here, the band put out only a limited number of original studio albums, but future reunion efforts and live offerings greatly added to their repertoire. Considering the fact that the venture was little more than a side project that took them away from their regular gigs somewhat momentarily, it still managed to resonate well beyond their original intents, and today the band’s groundbreaking self-titled debut retains the distinction of being one of the best-selling bluegrass albums of all time.

Live at Sonoma State – 11/4/73, from Grisman’s Acoustic Disc label, adds another edition to the Old & In The Way concert collections that have successfully rekindled some well-deserved recognition, and with 19 tracks, it measures up with both quality and quantity. Rowan’s heartfelt tribute to a Native American tribe of the far West, Land of the Navajo, is particularly poignant, but the exacting execution of the various instrumentals — Old & In the Way Breakdown, Lonesome Fiddle Blues, and Fanny Hill — demonstrate the fact that these musicians were well-tuned to bluegrass nuance, and not treating the form as some sort of novelty or curiosity. Granted, a song like Panama Red was obviously aimed at a younger, hipper crowd at the time, having become a standard for the New Riders of the Purple Sage, but even then, there’s no denying the expressive interplay between the players, as well as their complete dedication to form and finesse. So too, a take on the Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses makes a play to win over the college crowd, and another Rowan original, Midnight Moonlight, was clearly destined to become an audience favorite even early on.

Likewise, there are enough standards and standbys to assure absolute authenticity to form without any hint of irony or offense. The archival imprint of Uncle Pen, Orange Blossom Special, and Drifting Too Far From the Shore suggest the kind of reverence and authenticity that would likely have had Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, and Jim & Jesse nodding their heads with absolute approval. 

An archival offering of special significance, Live at Sonoma State 11/4/73 not only reignites some special musical memories, but offers a profound tribute to a ground-breaking ensemble that helped infuse bluegrass tradition into the current realms of populist precepts. For that reason alone, every new grass or jamgrass outfit that followed over the past 50 years owes them a decided debt of devotion.

This album is only available for download purchase (in multiple formats) directly from Acoustic Disc online.

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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.