Next Sunday, October 26th, Michael Daves will again host the Brooklyn Bluegrass Bash at The Bell House in Gowanus. In its third year, the Bash raises money for the Restoration Fund of Park Slope’s Old First Reformed Church, one of the oldest churches in all of New York and an iconic landmark in the Park Slope skyline.
Brooklynite Peter Sarsgaard is back this year emceeing the all-star lineup including David Bromberg with Mark Cosgrove; Bruce Molsky, Tony Trischka & Michael Daves; Darol Anger, Joe K. Walsh & Grant Gordy; and Haas/Kowert/Tice.
This is one of my favorite bluegrass events all year, so I caught up with Daves this week to preview this year’s Bash.
GCB: How did the idea for the Bluegrass Bash come about in the first place?
Michael Daves: I was out at the RockyGrass festival in Colorado several summers ago, performing and also teaching at the camp that leads up to the festival. So many of the artists there were friends of mine who are based in New York: The Punch Brothers, Aoife O’Donovan, Kristin Andreassen, among others. And I was wondering why we all had to come out to Colorado to hang out together and make music. There wasn’t any sort of festival or bluegrass event in the City at that time, though there are tons of great musicians living here. So I thought it would be good to start something that would bring us together close to home. Since organizing a for-profit festival would be financially and logistically insane, doing a benefit for the church sanctuary seemed like a more feasible way to make it happen. So we asked everyone gather around to help save this amazing sanctuary in our neighborhood. I attend Old First which is how I got involved in the restoration project but I knew it would be an easy enough sell to others; even for people who either don’t care about the church as a religious institution or are skeptical of religion or whatever (which is most people in Brooklyn) there’s a lot of community appeal. The building itself is an architectural and artistic treasure and deeply connected in NYC history (the congregation was Brooklyn’s first, founded in 1654 by order of Peter Stuyvesant), plus the sanctuary was used for a lot of ecumenical outreach like hosting arts events and a homeless shelter, and hosting Congregation Beth Elohim when their own sanctuary was under repair. So it’s pretty clear that this would be about saving a very special space that has a lot value to the community at large, not just the congregation.
GCB: How did Peter Sarsgaard get involved?
MD: Peter lives in Park Slope and is both a bluegrass music fan and a supporter of the building restoration campaign. I met him in 2010 when he was cast to play Bill Monroe in a (now-defunct) biopic and I was brought in as his mandolin tutor. He stayed on as a student even after the movie fell apart; his wife and kids are all very musical so he enjoys getting to play with them.
GCB: How did you arrive at this lineup? Is there a particular approach you took in curating?
MD: Well the past two years I’ve performed at the Bash with Chris Thile who doesn’t live in NYC anymore and busy with about twelve other projects, so he was unavailable. I had to go in a different direction. So I wanted to take the opportunity to showcase my new trio with Tony Trischka and Bruce Molsky, who is an amazing and influential old-time fiddler. Bruce mentored Brittany Haas, so I wanted to get her back to the Bash in her trio with Paul Kowert (Punch Brothers bassist) and Jordan Tice, who just put out an amazing new album. Brittany’s other mentor is Darol Anger, who’s also done a bunch of playing with Bruce and with Tony, and Darol has this new group Mr. Sun with Grant Gordy and Joe Walsh (and Ethan Jodziewicz on bass, who wasn’t available for the Bash). So the idea was to have the fiddle trifecta of Brittany, Bruce, and Darol on hand with their various projects and plan on a big jam at the end of the event where our minds will be blown by what they do all together. Then I had one other headlining slot to fill and thought of David Bromberg who I’ve opened some shows for. David is a total legend who’s started performing again after a hiatus of maybe 20 years. In the 70s he was based in NYC and collaborating with a who’s who including Bob Dylan, Dr. John, Emmylou Harris, etc etc. So for the generation who was around for that he’s an Americana music god, but he hasn’t played in Brooklyn and a lot of younger folks aren’t aware of him. I figure it’d be fun to present him here because he’ll be an amazing blast from the past for some and a great new discovery for others. In general, in choosing acts for the Bash I try to get performers who either already know each other or have some sort of affinity, and make sure it’s a group of people who would totally get together for a house party outside of a gig, just for fun. Since the Bash is a benefit concert, these performers are playing for a fraction of what they’d get paid at a major festival so I try to at least make sure it’s a great hang for all of them and compelling in terms of social and creative interaction. We feed them well and we all have a great time back stage. It’s sort of like old home week.
GCB: Anything new and noteworthy this year?
MD: We’re going to finish with an all-star jam in the last half-hour of the event. In past years we’ve had all the performers up to sing “Working On A Building” but this time we’ll extend that. Part of the reason is to give all of our amazing fiddlers a chance to interact, and also to feature some good old straight-ahead bluegrass since none of our main acts are doing exactly that like in years past.
GCB: How much money has been raised from the previous events?
MD: I don’t handle the money but I think the last two events each raised between $20k and $25k for the ceiling restoration at Old First, which is awesome. Many times that figure need to be raised to fully repair and restore the sanctuary but every chunk helps. Plus the Bash helps raise awareness about the space, and is also an opportunity for Old First to host a great community event even without the use of its main space.
Tonight at Rockwood, there’s a lot going on.
Most notably, Punch Brother Noam Pikelny, recently crowned Banjo Player of the Year by IBMA, takes the stage with famed fiddler Stuart Duncan. The duo will play songs off of Pikelny’s new album, Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe (Amazon) – an adaptation Baker’s sacred 1976 recording of Monroe instrumentals. While Pikely and Duncan will play as a duet, the new album features some of our other favorite old time cats, including Bryan Sutton on guitar, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin and Mike Bub (formerly of Del McCoury Band) on bass.
As Pikelny set out to build his album around the Baker album, he got frustrated while trying to transcribe J.D. Crowe banjo solos. Here’s how he explained it to the Roanoke Times:
“I came to the sense that I will never be able to play bluegrass banjo as well as J.D. Crowe does,” Pikelny remembered.
But there might be another way. What if instead of transcribing and playing banjo parts, he transcribed and played fiddle parts?
“I could play these tunes and maybe shine some new light on this material just because of the way I would play it on the banjo,” he said. “Translate Kenny to banjo, note for note, with a level of precision that typically has been shied away from, due to aesthetic or technical considerations.”
SICK. Check out a video preview of the tour below. Pikelny and Duncan take Rockwood’s Stage 2 at 9:30, but are preceded by one of our favorite Carolina string bands, Chatham County Line (note: same stage, separate ticket), at 7:30. Only to complicate your lives further, at 7PM on Stage 3 former Ollabelle members Fiona McBain and Glenn Patscha are performing under the banner of their new project, The Big Bright. Even after the Pikelny show, you can probably catch the tail end of Michael Daves’ weekly set on Stage 1. God speed.
Hozier’s performance of “Work Song” with the Berklee Gospel and Roots Choir was one of our favorite moments of the Newport Folk Festival this past summer (the backstage rehearsal I was lucky enough to catch was even more chilling than the stage performance). The Irish singer-songwriter appeared on SNL last night with strong performances of “Take Me to Church” and “Angel of Small Death and the Codine Scene,” but this one still takes the taco. I’m amazed at how quiet that crowd is.
Last week, jazz guitarist Julian Lage and progressive bluegrass guitarist Chris Eldridge (Punch Brothers, Infamous Stringdusters) released their first full-length album, Avalon (Amazon & Spotify). A follow up to the duo’s EP, Close To Picture, the new album – produced by Kenneth Pattengale of the Milk Carton Kids – was recorded live on the stage of the 1920’s-era Avalon Theatre in Easton, Maryland over two days with no playbacks or overdubs.
As you’d expect from two young Grammy-nominated guitar gods who’ve been perfecting their instrumentation since they were kids, the album is loaded with mind-bending solos throughout songs spanning multiple genres with instrumentals like Norman Blake’s “Whiskey Before Breakfast” and a damn fine cover of the Seldom Scene’s “Open Up The Window, Noah.” I caught the duo playing the latter in Madison Square Park (before it got cold) a couple weeks back. Check out a video of that performance below.
Lage & Eldridge play in NYC Monday night at The Standard, East Village Penthouse. The show is free, but you must RSVP in advance to aohayon at standardhotel.com. After that, they tour the South with stops in Durham, Charlotte, Birmingham, Athens and more.
Later this month, Cale Tyson, the classic country Texas-born Nashvillian, releases Cheater’s Wine (Amazon) – a new six-song EP. A follow up to his prior project, High On Lonesome, Cheater’s Wine carries the same refreshing departure from Nashville radio country (that we all despise) and that is finally getting regularly noticed by mainstream media through the success of folks like Sturgill Simpson and Robert Ellis, the fellow throwback country Texan that joins Tyson on guitar and backing vocals for the new EP. Cheater’s is Tyson’s best yet and easily fits on the top shelf of classic country. Of note are the slower numbers like “Get Out of Town” and “Oaxaca.”
Cheater’s Wine is due out on October 28th.
P.S. FYI that “Traveling Man” isn’t on either of Tyson’s EPs, so you’ll have to enjoy that one here.
It’s a packed week’s end, and our fingers are double-crossed that you already managed to lock down your Robert Plant tickets for tonight.
If not, not to worry. Anais Mitchell and/or Chris Thile will make up for it on Saturday.
Thursday, October 9
7:15 p.m. — Jason Darling w/ Anthony D’Amato at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 3
8:00 p.m. — Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters at Brooklyn Bowl
Friday, October 10
10:00 p.m. — Gabe Dixon at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2
Saturday, October 11
6:00 p.m. — Mirah and Death Vessel at le poisson rouge
6:45 p.m. — Anais Mitchell w/ Dietrich Strause at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2
7:00 p.m. — Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer at Town Hall
11:00 p.m. — Dom Flemons at SubCulture
Monday, October 13
8:00 p.m. — Communist Daughter, Lazer Cake, Paris Monster at Brooklyn Bowl
9:30 p.m. — Noam Pikelny & Stuart Duncan at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2
September always brings a slew of good new records and this year has been no different as Joe Fletcher, Justin Townes Earle, Ryan Adams, and Delta Spirit all released Americana goods in the last few weeks (loose use of the genre here). I’ve already written a bit about each of these guys, but since I’ve spent more time with the albums, I’ve really taken to a few tracks. So, here are my songs of September.
Joe Fletcher – “Florence, Alabama”
Justin Townes Earle – “Single Mothers”
Ryan Adams – “My Wrecking Ball”
Delta Spirit – “Live On”