Mar 252011

Old-time music is alive and well. Here are several pieces of strong evidence to persuade you.

Foghorn String Band last week in Brooklyn:

Foghorn Trio playing Louisiana sounds:

Chance McCoy and Old Sledge in the recording studio, not bad for a first take, eh?

Monday night I enjoyed a fabulous show featuring the full Foghorn String Band with Old Sledge opening. I was there with several old-time musician buds, and we all loved it. By the sounds of the crowd and the numerous requests, I think we had some gazillion others there in full agreement. The show was put on by the Institute of Musical Traditions, who do a lot of sweet shows in the Maryland suburbs of DC.

It’s funny when I think about old-time music, I always have this urge to defend it. Bluegrass is supposed to be the virtuoso acoustic Americana genre, and I won’t argue with that. But old-time is much more free of cliches than bluegrass is. When I think of my favorite bluegrass fiddlers, Richard Greene and Vassar Clements come to mind–two guys who broke the rules and are now copied and turned into cliches. For old-time, the fiddlers play with more drive, less intricacy and flair, and sometimes more personality. Not to say that I don’t like bluegrass, but sometimes it’s nice to here maybe seven or eight songs with really solid lyrics in a three-hour show, rather than twenty-five songs with mostly weak, forced, or formula lyrics in a three-hour bluegrass show. Old-time is a breath of free, fresh air. I love bluegrass, but it seems right now we’re at a place where the old-time folks have a lot more creative juice flowing. At least what I’m hearing. Maybe some of y’all can point out some strong new bluegrass sounds coming out today.

Foghorn is an interesting band because they mix in Cajun songs, Monroe-style driving mandolin, and sweet bluegrass-style banjo. I can’t think of anyone else who puts three-finger bluegrass banjo picking into a dance-pulse old-time band like this. They’re from Oregon, and it isn’t too often that we get a west-coast five-piece old-time group touring the east coast.

I’ve written about Chance McCoy before on this blog. Like Foghorn, he plays tight, fast, driving, and clean. So does his band, Old Sledge. The guy playing clawhammer banjo was just smashing notes out of that thing during this show. Really great stuff.

So old-time is alive, and it isn’t just for fiddle scratchers and scrapers. Lots of tight, strong playing here with bands like this. Check ’em out.

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