These days musicologists and cultural historians seem to be in agreement that what we know today as bluegrass and old time music has its roots in the mixing of the folk music of immigrants from the British Isles, with that of freed or escaped slaves of African origin in the Appalachian region. Many of these people were poor and lived simple lives in the mountains, were looked down upon by “polite society” in the urban areas, and they kept to themselves.
So it isn’t such a big leap from east Tennessee to England and Ireland, where Seth Mulder & Midnight Run are headed next week for almost a full month of shows. Like a number of groups from this region, the band got its start performing at the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distilleries in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, where daily schedules before uninitiated audiences can hone both technique and showmanship.
Midnight Run also exemplifies a growing trend in bluegrass circles. Primarily country boys, all four received a college education in bluegrass music at universities offering a degree in the style. And they have picked up on the thirst for quality entertainment using traditional mountain music as the focus. They deliver a driving sound in a fast-paced show that mixes humor with original music, and the public is picking up what they are laying down.
Mulder launched the band after finishing his studies at the Kentucky School of Bluegrass and Traditional Music, which had allowed him to study mandolin with Bobby Osborne. He brought in Ben Watlington on guitar, Colton Powers on banjo, and Max Etling on bass, all recent graduates of the Bluegrass, Old-Time, Celtic and Country Music Studies program at ETSU. Working for Ole Smoky solidified their direction and their goals, and left them a solid stage show that works in front of varied audiences.
So next week they are packing up and leaving for Ireland, where they will play every day through February 11, ending up with a string of dates in England. The daily grind won’t bother these boys, who had often played 6-8 sets a day at the distillery.
Fans of hard-driving old time bluegrass are encouraged to seek them out during this trip.
Here’s a taste on a new song of Seth’s, which shows just how well these young men have learned the lessons from past masters of the craft.
Full details on the Ireland and England tour dates can be found on the Midnight Run web site.