Jeff Austin and Friends/Larry Keel and Natural Bridge
March 12, 2008
The summer bluegrass season started early this year with Jeff Austin and Friends at Boulder’s Fox Theater. Whenever Jeff brings his “friends” along you can be sure of two things: anyone could show up, and you’ll have a kick-ass time. Unlike traditional bluegrass shows where silence is golden, this show was meant for re-connecting with old friends and reveling with our hometown heroes.
The show kicked off with Larry Keel and Natural Bridge opening, and they killed! Hurry up and see these guys, as the secret will soon be out. Alongside Larry Keel, Mark Schimick formed a formidable one-two lead punch as he sung with a silky smooth tenor, and also played a mean mandolin. The band also featured Larry’s wife Jenny Keel on bass, and Jason Flournoy on banjo.
Larry Keel is a flat picking guitar demon, and with Natural Bridge behind him they offered a pleasing blend of traditional Blue-Ridge Mountain bluegrass and a Tony Rice-style virtuoso performance. It’s a rare occurrence when the entire headlining band comes out to accompany the opening band, but that’s what happened tonight. No less than nine musicians, including Dave Johnston from Yonder Mountain String Band appeared on stage to assist Natural Bridge on the closing number.
This Wednesday night show was hard to pass up given the advertised line-up. Lead Yonder Mountain String Band man, Jeff Austin brought along some of the best bluegrass musicians in the business: Darol Anger on the fiddle, Bryn Bright (from many of Peter Rowan’s groups) on the bass, and Billy Nershi from Honkytonk Homeslice on guitar.
This was no showcase as they ripped through two full sets containing 22 songs that went well past one in the morning. Usually these “all-star” jams are ragged affairs, but they were surprisingly well-rehearsed and tight, and played a high-energy bluegrass/rock hybrid that was perfectly suited to dancing and fist pumping.
While Jeff Austin was certainly in charge, taking most of the turns singing, there was definitely an instrumental democracy at work. Each member had ample opportunity to show off their abilities. Darol Anger’s fiddle was prominently featured on almost every song, and rightly so as he filled the role of elder statesman on stage. His pedigree is amazing when you consider some of the bands he has played with like The David Grisman Quintet, Psychograss, and Mike Marshall. Although Billy Nershi sang the SCI classic “Jellyfish”, he seemed to relish the role of sideman, stepping back and accompanying the raucous proceedings most of the evening. As he did with Natural Bridge, Dave Johnston joined in for a few songs during the evening.
Jeff Austin has definitely minted his own style of original bluegrass insanity much in the way David Grisman created “Dawg” music. Whether it’s with Yonder Mountain or his “friends”, you can be sure you won’t be sitting in your seat.