June Blooms – Underground

June’s just about here. Time for summer vacations, weddings, and music festivals. Forget about Christmas, for bluegrass fans this is the most wonderful time of the year, when all the bands come out to play in open fields everywhere. But here at Bluegrass Underground we have the best of both worlds –  all the natural beauty of an outdoor setting but without the sunburn, mosquitoes, rain, mud, wind, dust storms and ripe, sunbaked port-o-lets.
Instead, we offer a consistently cool 60-degree environment amid a stunning backdrop. Plus, we have three-time Emmy-winning BGU soundman Andy Kern and lighting whiz Brian Sullivan working in a controlled setting to provide first-rate concert production. Best of all, we have a full lineup of the finest bluegrass and roots musicians on or under the planet. June brings a Triple Crown of three very different shows, taking us from East Tennessee to Louisiana, from the Grand Ole Opry to the peaks of Telluride.

We start the month with a big dose of the Big Easy. June 3, it’s the all-star Revelers, one of Lafayette’s best swamp bands, a group of young musicians who’ve been hailed as the future of Cajun music. Here they are in action, at our sister show, Music City Roots.  Bring your dancing shoes. Get your tickets today!

Opening the show is a longtime BGU favorite. Bill & The Belles are the house band for Bristol, Tennessee’s revival of WCYB’s legendary Farm & Fun Time radio show, mixing smooth harmonies and classic old-time songs, answering the musical question, “What if Bing Crosby replaced A.P. Carter in the Carter Family?” There aren’t many groups that can hold their own with Davina & The Vagabonds, but when they played a recent Live From the Underground event together last year, just as many folks were buzzing about Bill & The Belles as about Davina.
Here they are at that show doing one of their crowd-pleasers. Two very different bands, both steeped in tradition but not bound by it. This will be a good one, folks. Get more info here.
June 17, it’s the classic bluegrass sound of The Larry Stephenson Band. Larry’s one of the great high tenor singers in bluegrass, recalling a young Bobby Osborne. After 18 years with Pinecastle, Stephenson andhis wife Dreama have their own label, Whysper Dream, and the LSB has a new album, Weep Little Willow. For banjo fans, the group features one of the all-time greats, Kenny Ingram, who, in his early days, drove the five-string for Lester Flatt & The Nashville Grass.
Here’s the LSB version of Bill Monroe’s  signature song, “Muleskinner Blues,” taped at MCR. Check out Ingram’s backup playing, lead guitarist Kevin Richardson’s hot solo and of course, Stephensonsstratospheric lead vocals. They’ve frequently appeared on the Grand Ole Opry but this marks their Bluegrass Underground debut. Here’s the band’s website.

Opening that show are Josh Smith, William See and Squirrel McLain, better known as The Glade City Rounders, a raucous old-time string band specializing in the pre-bluegrass sounds of folks like Uncle Dave Macon, Charlie Poole and Gus Cannon. Here’s some hummable homicide by the Rounders with their version of Poole’s take on the old Frankie & Johnny story, “Leavin’ Home”. For more, click here.

Groups Love Trips to Bluegrass Underground

June 24, our final show of the month features the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band, one of the true icons of both traditional and progressive bluegrass and one of the greatest bluegrass singers of all time. For traditional fans, he was a member of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys in the mid-late ’60s, singing and co-writing one of Monroe’s greatest songs, “Walls of Time.” It’s the single best personification of the “high lonesome sound.” Bluegrass Time, the album made during Rowan’s tenure with the band, featured two other urban revivalists – Lamar Grier on banjo (flatpicker David Grier’s dad) and fiddler Richard Greene – along with son James Monroe on bass, and it’s one of Monroe’s best.

If Rowan had quit music then, his status would have been assured, but he went on to play with Jerry Garcia in Old & In The Way, a band that was as influential in jam grass as the Blue Grass Boys were in traditional bluegrass. He also wrote such classics as “Panama Red,” a hit for the country rocking New Riders of the Purple Sage.

 And he’s still creating great new music, as witnessed by his recent CD for Compass, Old School. He’s also a fine showman. I’ve seen him dozens of times, including fronting his pioneering bluegrass-blues-rock band Seatrain, and I have never been disappointed.
Don’t miss your chance to see him live and subterranean. Here he is, singing “Walls of Time”.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, check out the rest of this great iceberg.
Opening the 1 p.m. show is San Francisco’s Quiles & Cloud, featuring singer/guitarists Maria Quiles and Rory Cloud and Oscar Westesson on upright bass. They have their own dreamy version of traditional music with atmospheric takes on classics like “Deep Ellum Blues” that recall the interweaving vocals of the Civil Wars, but taking that sound to a very different destination. Last year they released Beyond The Rain, produced by Alison Brown on her Compass label. Here’s Quiles and Cloud doing “Black Sky Lightning”.
So come join us and celebrate the start of summer at 333 feet below. Bring your sense of adventure; leave the sunscreen and bug spray at home.
We’ll see you Underground.
– Larry

Larry Nager – Host/Interviewer