Musicians that have mastered the art of bluegrass have also gained control of numerous music genres including country, rock and roll, rhythm and blues and jazz. In recent years, Los Angeles has witnessed a revival of first-generation roots music that’s attracting a broader and more diverse audience. Bluegrass bands are accomplishing this resurrection of traditional songs by incorporating gospel, neo-traditional and new grass into their repertoire to appeal to varied cultures and the next generation of musical greats. From the kaleidoscopic landscape of L.A.’s green pastures and mountainous overlook, here are some of the best bluegrass bands in the region that are creating their own marquee of melodious excellence.
The Silver Mountain String Band
Whenever bluegrass musicians step onto a stage donning stylish western wear, perhaps the only thing that’s sexier is the band’s expert ability to rock American roots music. This is what The Silver Mountain String Band does each time it performs at social events across L.A. Inspired by composer and instrumentalist Bill Monroe and folk music artist John Hartford, this group is comprised of adept fiddler Chris Murphy, super cool guitarists Nate LaPointe and Tom Frazer, savvy mandolinist Tom Moose, fervid bassist Ted Kamp and impassioned percussionist Adam Gust. This vivacious group of consummate professionals presents a lively presentation of Appalachian traditions with popular jazz elements. Its renditions of new grass, a style that incorporates punk rock, assures a thigh-slapping, toe-tapping experience.
Hailed as one of L.A.’s leading acoustic bands, this award-winning melodic quartet has taken progressive bluegrass to an all new level of enthusiasm. The assemblage blends Celtic folk with a mighty bluegrass attitude, a smart fusion of eclectic sounds that has placed this dynamic collection of musicians in a category all its own. The band’s performers include veteran tenor and fiddler Michael Kelly, celebrated multi-instrumentalist and vocalist David Burns, world-renowned jazz bassist Olivier Prud’homme and dramatic percussionist Jonathan Baer. The group has mastered the capability of dusting off tunes from bygone years and making them fresh, even more invigorating. If you want to hear where the future of bluegrass music is heading, Sligo Rags provides a front-row seat of pure satisfaction.
Provided that you mix four pounds of bluegrass with two ounces of country, an ounce of jazz and a hefty can of whoopee, you’ll end up with Murphy’s Flaw, a multifarious group of fascinating musicians with even more intriguing backgrounds. This highly cultivated collective of superlative artists consists of journalist-turned-guitarist and banjo player John Bryan, computer programmer-turned-percussionist Bob Reselman, teacher-turned-guitarist Gary Friedman, designer-turned-guitarist and banjo player Frank Harper, fishing boat captain-turned-mandolinist Donald “Buzz” Brown and psychologist-turned-bassist and lead vocalist Arlo Zoos. If bluegrass tunes are considered narratives on the everyday lives of the musicians that play it, Murphy’s Flaw will deliver a whimsical series of musical anecdotes well worth your time.
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The Dust Bowl Cavaliers
With a total of four albums in its rear view mirror, this seven-member band has likely found the missing link between bluegrass of old and the rebellious, in-your-face attitude of punk rock. The group’s modern-day style of entertainment can be so wicked and naughty, you might regret bringing your grandmother to one of its shows. The band appeals to those rock music aficionados that appreciate the musicianship of whipping string instruments into submission. The Dust Bowl Cavaliers is comprised of vicious percussionist Chris Kirshbaum, unrestrained multi-instrumentalist Mark McConville, rambunctious fiddlers Jesse Olema and Cory Rouse, mad mandolinist Ryan Raddatz, outrageous banjo player John Rosen and rowdy bassist Matthew Young. These men aim to exhilarate and will leave you begging for an encore.
Wimberley Bluegrass Band
Formed in 2006, the Wimberley Bluegrass Band is a refreshing group of exceptionally talented teenage siblings that synthesizes customary bluegrass with gospel music styles to create uplifting presentations. This sensational, high-energy foursome is composed of accomplished mandolinist Danielle Wimberley, polished banjo player James Wimberley, proficient guitarist Mark Wimberley and gifted fiddler Michael Wimberley. This group of musical prodigies performs regularly at bluegrass festivals throughout Southern California. Inspired by iconic musicians Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, this passionate band is introducing this distinct music form to the next generation of music lovers while breathing renewed life into bluegrass music’s third subgenre – bluegrass gospel.
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Sharon Raiford Bush is an award-winning journalist who covers topics of social interest in greater Los Angeles. Some news articles she has authored have been archived by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Sharon also contributes to Examiner.com.