Seldom Scene 40th Anniversary bash

This report is a contribution from Katy Daley, morning host on WAMU’s Bluegrass Country, and long-time observer of the DC bluegrass scene.

It’s appropriate the Scene’s 40th Anniversary show was held Thanksgiving weekend, a time traditionally set aside for family and friends. A pre-concert survey revealed audience members had travelled from as far away as Washington State, Colorado, Maine, Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina and Japan to be at the Birchmere Saturday night for the celebration.

Excitement was high for the sold-out 7:30 show. Ticket holders started lining up outside at 3:00 to snag good seats. At the same time, the band and musical guests were inside going over the set list and rehearsing a few songs. The phrase, “It’s hard to believe it’s been 40 years…” was heard repeatedly throughout the evening.

The Seldom Scene’s original 5 members — John Duffey, John Starling, Mike Auldridge, Ben Eldridge and Tom Gray — started getting together in 1971 for what they called “a weekly card game.” Their only goal was to pick and have fun. Who could have predicted then where that music would take them and more importantly, where they would take it?

The band’s only original member, banjo player Ben Eldridge, was joined on-stage by current band members Dudley Connell, Lou Reid, Ronnie Simpkins and Fred Travers for two hour-long sets. Musical guests included John Starling, Mike Auldridge, Tom Gray, Akira Otsuke and family members (and pickers) Chris Eldridge, Jay Starling and Rickie Simpkins. Sally Love Connell also took the stage to sing harmony on one song. John Duffey was represented on stage by two of his mandolins — The Duck #2 and his F-12 — both played by Akira Otsuke and Lou Reid. Of course, there cannot be a Scene get-together without a couple good John Duffey stories, and they were in good supply.

It was heartwarming to see family members and long-time friends celebrating the music that set the bluegrass world on its ear 40 years ago. Last night’s vocal pairings and instrumental work showed the Seldom Scene is still up for taking a few chances, and still having fun doing it.