This post is a contribution from David Morris, one of our 2010 IBMA correspondents. Photos for this post are from Roy Swann.
Like hundreds of folks in Nashville on Wednesday, Keith Garrett was dreaming about quitting his day job and plunging into the music business full time. Unlike all the others, though, his dream is all but certain to come true.
Garrett and other members of the Boxcars unveiled their debut album Wednesday at the World of Bluegrass conference in Nashville with a short set at an invitation-only event for DJs and promoters. But this isn’t just another band pushing just another first CD. This is the bluegrass equivalent of a rock-n-roll super group, an all-star jam squeezed into one band.
The Boxcars have taken this year’s IBMA gathering by storm, less than a year after forming, and they have the rest of the music world locked in their sights. Don’t be surprised by this time next year if the band has topped the charts, the group and several members are well represented on the list of IBMA award nominees and Garrett has chucked his day-job as a chemistry teacher to travel full-time wherever the Boxcars are headed. Indeed, by then the band might have put the lie to one of Garrett’s tunes, Never Played The Opry.
Garrett, who had been with Blue Moon Rising before climbing aboard the Boxcars, said he still can’t believe his luck. After idolizing mandolin master Adam Steffey for years, he said, “when I look over it’s almost like I can’t believe I’m playing with him. It’s real fun.” But Garrett isn’t just playing with Steffey and the others. He takes the vocal lead on many of the tunes and wrote five of the debut’s 13 songs. So how long until the chemistry job is history? “Well, the sooner the better,” Garrett said with a grin.
Steffey shares Garrett’s gosh-this-is-good sentiment. Something just clicked when he got together with Garrett, Ron Stewart, John Bowman and Harold Nixon, a feeling he described as “just right.” He said one reason the band got off to a running start and was able to get a first album out in time for IBMA was a shared list of major influences, including J.D. Crowe, Doyle Lawson, Flatt and Scruggs and the Stanley Brothers.
The album’s 13 songs are based on familiar themes – murder, gloom, a longing for home, trusting God – but the approach is fresh, both on the album and in the band’s performances this week. The freshness and tightness are especially surprising given the fact that some of the tracks were cut after the band had been together for only a couple of months. The push was made with one goal in mind – having material ready in time to be selected for a showcase slot at the World of Bluegrass gathering. The rest of the album was hurried along to be ready for this week.
The big challenge now, Steffey said, is figuring out how to mesh the schedules of in-demand musicians, including a couple who have regular jobs. “It’s tough sometimes logistically to hook everybody up,” Steffey said. “You just make it happen to be able to make the music.” That might get easier when Garrett trades classroom chemistry for the chemistry of the band.