Livewire’s One-and-Done Reunion

Apparently, playing in a bluegrass band is a lot like riding a bicycle. Once you learn how to do it, you don’t forget how, even if years go by without doing it. You might wobble a bit, but the basics come back pretty quickly. So it was Tuesday night when Robert Hale and the other former members of Livewire played together on stage for the first time in 20 years.

The after-hours showcase at IBMA’s World of Bluegrass was originally designed as a performance by Hale in support of his upcoming release on the Pinecastle Records label. But Livewire alums Scott Vestal, John Wayne Benson and Ernie Sykes had helped out in the studio, and the one-off reunion grew out of that.

The reunion underscored how the bluegrass industry has changed since Livewire was together. In their time, the band was seen by purists as on the fringe of bluegrass because of their use of amplifiers and country leanings. Now, in the midst of the jam grass movement, the band would easily be welcomed into the traditional camp.

Hale noted the irony during the short set. “We used to use amplifiers and plug in and all that stuff,” he said. “Look at us now. One microphone.” After the laughter died down, he deadpanned, “Are you happy now?”

The single microphone was the source of the band’s only wobbles during the showcase, with soloists occasionally having to fight for a path to the middle of the small stage. But Hale worked the minor mishaps into his stage banter. “We got together a little bit earlier today to rehearse a little bit,” he chucked. “It didn’t do us a bit of good.”

But if the choreography was a bit clunky, the music was solid, from a Hale-penned instrumental, Dirt Poor, to tight vocals on such numbers as These Old Blues and a gospel song, Savior Save Me From Myself.

The short set offered just a taste of what used to be when these solid pickers were a unit. But if you missed the magic last night, you’ll have to settle for recorded versions when Hale’s project comes out early next year. There are no plans for additional performances.

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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.

  • Jamie Doris

    Ernie Sykes is a local favorite up here in the NYC area, from Buddy Merriam’s band (& Backroads). He left town in a hurry recently and I wondered what became of him. Now I know. So, since this was “one and done,” can we look forward to the prodigal son’s return? I’m guessing his vast talents are more in demand down there than up here. Thanks for the report!