Fans that stayed up late enough at the first night of this month’s Red Wing Roots Festival at the Natural Chimneys of Mount Solon were lucky enough to see an energetic performance by Larry Keel and Natural Bridge.
Of course, any performance delivered by the Keels is a treat, but some may have picked up on extra emotion on stage that night. Friday’s show at Red Wing was Mark Schimick’s last public performance with Larry Keel and Natural Bridge. Long time mandolin player Mark Schimick, who poured a good 12 of the last 14 years into his playing with the Keels, is taking a new direction to work on his own projects such as the Josh Daniel and Mark Schimick Project and a solo CD. Schimick explains that the JD and MS Project is going to “reflect reggae, funk, soul and Motown on bluegrass instruments.”
Audience members could see how much Schimick was pouring into the performance, putting his all and a little bit extra into every song, while those in the audience who were aware it was his last gig were shouting “We love you Mark!” and “We’ll miss you!”
He delivered an especially crowd pleasing cover of Lynard Skynard’s Simple Man taking lead vocals.
The Keels fan base is a tight, sometimes feverish and very loyal group for sure. A show, especially one in Virginia, brings them out in droves, as was evidenced by the crowd at Red Wing. When Larry played Love, a personal favorite of mine, the crowd was as loud as ever. Following the encore, the audience refused to disperse shouting “One More, One More,” drowning out the announcer who was trying to explain the festival was on a hard midnight curfew, and had to stop amplified music. It took a thankful Larry, hands clenched over his heart in appreciation for the outpouring of love for the entire band, and for Mark’s last show, to convince the crowd that the show was over, and that they’d be out to chat and hang out after they cleared the stage.
Larry and Jenny Keel, along with Will Lee will continue their musical endeavors as The Larry Keel Experience.
Before the Friday set at Red Wing, I got a chance to sit down and talk to Larry, about the direction of the music, as well as their upcoming projects and endeavors.
Kirby: Music as a collaborative effort for you is a very integral part of what you do. I have seen you play with countless artists and played fantastically with all of them. Collaboration seems to be very important to you. Talk about that aspect of performing if you would.
Larry: Everybody and their bands create something they practice, and they work a tight thing together, so for me to be able to play with all the musicians I play with is really fresh. It’s neat to get everyone’s ideas and to be able to bend off of them and connect and create something special, that’s what it’s all about.
K: On your website, your old bands, as well as your current projects, are described as “Progressive String Bands.” Seeing you live several times recently, and hearing music from your 2012 record, Classic, your music just seems to get more innovative and different. Do you plan to move further and further in a progressive direction?
L: Well, I’ve been playing music with Jenny for 15 or 16 years now, and Will and I have been playing music for 30 years now, and so we’re all really comfortable. When we’re that comfortable it’s really easy to hit a groove and create something really different. We’re writing a lot of different music now, with a lot more effects and much heavier sounds, because as a live band we want to play at a rock and roll volume with all the freaky elements of it.
I just hear a lot of different music in my head now, and so does Will, who’s a great banjo player. It’s just really neat to see how music for us has transpired and we’re just trying to be really natural for where it’s going.
K: I recently saw you at a live show, and you guys went way out there, a very spacey, funky sort of effect. Can we expect more of this new sound in your new music?
L: Yeah, absolutely. We’re in the studio right now doing a lot of pre-production and recording for a release we’ll probably have out by late fall this year.
K: Is there anything else you can tell us about that project?
L: Well it’s very original and its going to have some very special guests. So look out for that.
K: Regarding your upcoming performance with Sam Bush at Lockn’ Music Festival: do you plan on doing more with Sam Bush?
L: I hope so, it’s like a dream come true. I’ve been a fan of his since I was a kid, and it’s great to be able to hook up like this. We’ve played together with different combinations but this is a lot more intimate and a lot more rowdy.
While there are new directions for both Schimick and the Keels, they part on good terms and haven’t ruled out getting together in the future from time to time. With new opportunities and collaborations for all, we can certainly look forward to what that future holds.