For a change, I was able to stay for all three main stage acts at Wednesday’s (9/30) lunchtime showcase, and I saw some very strong performances.
Darren Beachley & Legends Of The Potomac were up first. That may sound like a fairly grandiose name for a new band, but with former Seldom Sceners Tom Gray on bass, Mike Auldridge on resonator guitar, and former Bluegrass Cardinal Norman Wright on mandolin and tenor vocals, the name fits.
Their set featured music from an upcoming CD on Patuxent Records, with Darren Beachley (former member of Quicksilver) on guitar and lead vocals and Mark Delaney on banjo.
No matter how well they played or how solid the material they chose, nothing could overshadow getting to hear Wright’s soaring tenor on stage again! His voice was clear and strong and anyone who cherished his recordings with the Cardinals had to be immediately swept up in the sound – as I surely was.
The name also fits given that their style calls to mind what could be described as the Washington, DC bluegrass sound. Both The Country Gentlemen and Seldom Scene emerged from that community in the 1960s and ’70s, and Darren and the Legends carry it forward just fine.
Next up was G2, a young bluegrass band from Sweden. Wonder what a Swedish bluegrass band sounds like?
Well with these guys, it sounds exactly like it does in Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky or Tennessee. Their style is modern, but it’s clear that all five of them have intently studied the music, and they play it with a confidence and authority you might not expect from a young European band.
Almost all of their music is written by guitarist Christoffer Olsson, who also handles the lead vocals. As resonator guitarist Tobias Strömberg mentioned during the set, “It’s hard to believe all those big words come out of such a little man.” Olsson’s songs are thoughtful and original, avoiding the sort of stereotypes that can plague artists who work in a style that is foreign to their culture.
But all of these musicians could go to work for Doyle Lawson. Mandolinist Erik Igelström has obviously mastered his instrument, but plays with a highly individual style. Bass player Jimmy Sunnebrandt, like most of the band, grew up with a father who played country and bluegrass fiddle. Erik told a story about Jimmy as a tyke going with his father to shows, where he would sit in the front row reading Donald Duck comics until his dad would call him up to play a tune with them on fiddle. After he was finished, he would return to his seat and his reading.
Banjo picker Jens Koch really stands out, and is among the very best young, traditional bluegrass banjo players in any country. He works effortlessly in the JD Crowe/Ron Stewart idiom, and I can see him becoming one of the tops on his instrument in the next few years. Strömberg was impressive as well.
Igelström mentioned that the band is planning to spend as much as four months in the US in 2010, working as many dates as Roe Entertainment can get them heading into IBMA. It was a very strong performance.
Audie Blaylock & Redline finished out the afternoon set.
Establishing yourself as a band leader can be tough, even after working with Rhonda Vincent and Michael Cleveland. Audie has been building a band since this time last year, and the one he has assembled is top notch.
His solid guitar playing holds down the rhythm section with Matt Wallace on bass, Patrick McAvinue on fiddle and Evan Ward on banjo. Darrell Webb had been playing mandolin and singing tenor, but he is process of setting up his own band, so his status with the band is temporary.
Blaylock is a singularly powerful vocalist, and this group blends with him perfectly. Their trios were matched breath for breath, and the quartet number they did, Goodbye – from their self-titled debut CD – was stunning. And it was no fluke… I heard them again this evening and they nailed this song both times.
Fiddler McAvinue also merits special mention. He is an adventurous player, with an aggressive style of his own. His solo album, Rutlands Reel is an excellent recording you may want to consider.
All in all, a very entertaining group of artists, with enough variance in style to show that bluegrass music simply doesn’t all sound the same.