This past Wednesday night, I walked into Hook and Ladder, bought myself a beer, and sat down in the front row of a show for Shadowgrass, a bluegrass band I’d never heard of before. Waiting for the show to start, I saw perched upon the old stage a mandolin, a fiddle, an upright bass, and a beautiful old guitar. I didn’t have much of a chance to wonder what the hell was going down in this firehouse, because soon, Shadowgrass, sauntered up on stage, silently picked up their instruments, and then let all hell break loose.
With nary an introduction, Shadowgrass launched into an earth-shattering and jaw-dropping pluck fest. Introduced as the slinger of the six-string steam piano, Kyser George blew the crowd away within the first two minutes of his solo. Fingers flying across the strings so fast you could only catch half the notes, Barker helped Shadowgrass set the mood for the rest of their set. The lack of a drummer– something that initially took me aback– was hardly an obstacle, as time was kept with the upright bass. A smile plastered across his face, Shadowgrass’s bassist kept spirits high while everyone else played off one another’s strings. Though the audience was sitting down, it was impossible not to start stomping, tapping, and clapping along with the ferocity of each song.
Here we take a brief pause for an author’s note. I always struggle with these reviews, because how does one describe music to someone who just wasn’t there? And as I was jotting down notes for this article, one phrase was sprawled across the page.
JERRY GARCIA’S “NOT FOR KIDS ONLY”
It was clear within the first few notes of Shadowgrass’s set that there were similarities between Garcia’s delightfully whimsical bluegrass album that raised me– featuring mandolin, jaw harps, banjos, and of course, fiddles. So without further ado– to get a small sense of what I got to experience on Wednesday, tune into “There Ain’t No Bugs On Me” as you read off the next paragraph
After a few songs that were full of pure and traditional bluegrass strings, the lead singer, Madison Morris, shocked everyone with a cover of “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley. Between the overlapping strings, and the echoing of each note, it was hard to tell which instrument was which, making the cover of the song that more impressive. This was the theme of the night, a confusing and perfectly overwhelming blend of strings as everyone built off of each other’s energy. The stage was full of tangled wires and something I can only describe as chicken necks, as everyone jumped around and nodded their heads to their notes. Mandolin man Luke Morris led the band to greatness through fiddle battles, bouncy banjo solos, and music that got the audience up to do a jig. Finally, Maddison launched into a wonderfully classic cover of “Rich Girl” and with her velvet vocals and harmonizing strings, it was a great end to their solo set.
After a brief pause for merch buying and poster signing, I retook my seat, and Shadowgrass climbed back up on stage. During the applause and commotion, a new fiddle player descended from the top of the stairs to my right, and before anyone could notice, Shadowgrass introduced him as Jeremey Garret, the fiddle player for the Infamous Stringdusters. Garret introduced himself not by greeting us, but with an unbelievable fiddle solo. Garret exclaimed how excited he was to play with Shadowgrass, and in the last song of their set, let Clay Russel– resident banjoist– take the lead, blowing everyone out of the water with his talent. With the clock nearing midnight, Shadowgrass and Garret took their exit stage left, while the audience begged for one more song. There was no fakeout, nor was there any feigned surprise when the band turned right back around, braced themselves, and launched into an unexpected cover of “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac. Although an incredibly bold song to cover, Morris’s unique voice mixed with the upbeat orchestra of strings left me in awe of the wild talent of this band.
If you want to get into them, I recommend “Brushy Mountain Pen” “Carl’s Breakdown” and as your finale “Creatures of Havoc.” Though above all, I recommend going to one of their shows sight unseen– what you can find on Spotify couldn’t compare to the raw talent I saw on stage.