It was the kick-off concert of Banjo Bonanza week around around Nippertown, which also included the WMHT-TV airing of the historical documentary “Give Me the Banjo” on Friday, a concert by Abigail Washburn at Bearsville Theater on Saturday and the ever-adventurous Bela Fleck and the reunited original line-up of his band the Flecktones at The Egg on Sunday.
And without doubt, the Grascals concert served up the most traditional bluegrass display of the bunch. That is, if your definition of traditional bluegrass includes a version of the Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville.”
Still, they did venture into traditional turf, opening with “Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms,” and later tackling “My Saro Jane” and the standard “Sally Goodin,” although mandolin master Danny Roberts did veer off into Deep Purple’s “Smoke of the Water” during his solo in the latter.
Guitarists Jamie Johnson and Tommy Eldredge ably handled the lead vocal chores – with bassist Terry Smith chiming in the on the surprisingly full three-part harmonies – on such nuggets as the ballad “Beneath Still Waters” and a pair of tunes penned by the late Harley Allen, “Indiana” and “Me and John and Paul.”
But the band was at its best when showcasing the instrumental virtuosity of Roberts, banjo champion Kristen Scott Benson and fiddler Jeremy Abshire on such breakdowns as “Bugle Call Rag” and “Blue Rock Slide.”
Nippertown’s own Ramblin Jug Stompers opened the show, easing through vintage jug band blues, nifty novelties and the chiming original instrumental “Fry Pan Jack Enters Into Heaven” in a short five-song set.
Review by Roger Houston
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Excerpt from Brian McElhiney’s review at The Daily Gazette: “The six members of the group are all virtuoso players – their collective resumes include Nashville session work with everyone from Dolly Parton to Jim Martin. For roughly an hour and a half, the band took down home bluegrass and country to the next level, each song brimming with soulful playing and always just the right amount of flash. And though the crowd may have been criminally small, those who came couldn’t deny that the show was a stunning success.”