Northern Lights go out for good

Northern Lights has been the premier progressive bluegrass band in northeastern Massachusetts for the past 35 years. Other than a brief hiatus from 1977-1982, the band has been the home for adventurous string musicians in the Boston area, often including students at the many various institutions of higher learning.

Former members include banjo pickers Alison Brown and Mike Kropp, both of whom continue to make their mark in the music business. Today’s edition features a number of long timers, even though there are no founding members remaining. Bill Henry and Alex MacLeod are on guitar, John Daniel on bass, Mike Barnett on fiddle and Eric Robertson on mandolin. Keeping with the tradition, both Barnett and Robertson are current students at The Berklee College of Music.

But all good things come to an end, as they say. Northern Lights will play their last show on Saturday, March 13 at the Rose Garden Coffeehouse in Mansfield, MA.

Steve Ide, who runs the Folk, Bluegrass & Traditional Music blog on the Wicked Local web site, has a nice piece up about the end of this era, including a slide show of images from the band’s long history. Steve describes his reaction upon discovering Northern Lights when he first moved to Boston in 1988.

But here was this local band, with performers from Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island at that time, forging their own style, building a fan base and stretching the genre in ways few bluegrass bands dared to do. Maybe it was a New England thing to push the envelope. I mean, a bluegrass band from New England? They might as well play what they want to, since the southern-based bluegrass establishment might be less accepting anyway. And yet, there were no lack of great bluegrass musicians who came out of New England, from Joe Val to Peter Rowan.

For me, it was special to watch. It was a gathering of everyday guys – performers with day jobs, mostly – who played for the love of the music, enjoyment of their craft, the camaraderie and the occasional free meal. And when the show was over, they crawled the music festivals for after-hours picking, jamming into the night. The cool thing about bluegrass music and its participants is that this is not unique. They all do it, and they love it.

Read the full article online.

Ide also agreed to let us share his slide show on Bluegrass Today. It not only offers a ton of memories for fans of Northern Lights, but details the band’s history in the captions.

Share this:

About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.