Seldom Scene hits middle age

Dudley Connell and Fred Travers at the Seldom Scene 40th Anniversary show at The Birchmere (12/31/11) - photo by Dewey PetersYou never know what songs you’ll hear when the Seldom Scene is playing. Not only is the band entering it’s 41st year – giving the Scene one of the deepest catalogs around – but members regularly add new material to their stage show.

I was lucky enough to attend a grand New Year’s Eve tradition in the Washington, D.C., area – the Seldom Scene playing at the legendary Birchmere Music Hall. John Duffey has been dead for 15 years now, and other members have come and gone, but the Scene is still a must-hear – tight three-and four-part harmonies, good picking and, always, a few surprises mixed in with the must-do songs their faithful followers have come to expect.

The Birchmere show was no different. Along with Wait a Minute — perhaps the closest thing to a Seldom Scene anthem — the set list meandered through This Morning At Nine; the Bill Monroe standard Working on a Building; Bob Dylan’s Boots of Spanish Leather; George Jones’ Walk Through This World with Me, and Hazel Dickens’ My Better Years. There was, as always, humor, too — this time in the form of the early 1970s counterculture classic, the Down to Seeds and Stems Again Blues.

The icing on the cake at the Birchmere show was Chris Eldridge of the Punch Brothers singing John Starling’s Mean Mother Blues, while proud papa Ben Eldridge – the last original member of the Scene – vamped on the banjo a few feet away.

On this night, the harmonies were especially spellbinding. Some of Duffey’s performances of Wait A Minute still pile up boatloads of YouTube hits, but Dudley Connell, Lou Reid and Fred Travers nailed it. And on I’m Working on a Building, bassist Ronnie Simpkins added a solid bass vocal as well.

The Scene is in the process of gathering material for a new studio project, which should bring new excitement to fans in 2012. And there’s no sign of these veteran pickers slowing down.

After closing the show and bringing in the New Year with a rousing Auld Lang Syne, Dudley and his wife, Sally Love Connell, entertained about 20 folks at a wee-hours party at Wine Harvest, a bistro/wine shop near his Maryland home. As a few extra pickers joined in, the jam session turned into a tour of Stanley Brothers and Flatt & Scruggs standards, much to the delight of Dudley, a Carter Stanley acolyte – and the small, but enthusiastic crowd.

Those who can’t wait for another Scene fix might want to circle Feb. 4 on their calendars. Dudley and Sally will be at the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis, MD, for the annual Good Deale Bluegrass show with Tim and Savannah Finch.

Folks at the Birchmere show were treated to a terrific sneak preview when Tim and Savannah and the rest of the Eastman String Band opened, Sally joined them for a magical, just-rehearsed-backstage version of Townes Van Zandt’s If I Needed You.

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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.