Live on the Levee closes with 'jamgrass'
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WHERE: Haddad Riverfront Park
WHEN: 6:30 p.m.
INFO: 304-348-8014, ext. 105 or www.liveontheleveecharleston.comCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With bluegrass, all roads eventually lead back to Bill Monroe, the father of the genre. It's just that some of those roads seem to wind a little more than others.
Anders Beck, whose band Greensky Bluegrass performs at Live on the Levee Friday, said his road to bluegrass includes the music of Monroe, but it started about as far away as he could imagine.
First of all, he didn't grow up playing bluegrass or the dobro.
"I came up in music from an electric guitar background," he said. "When I first started, I was trying to learn how to flat pick guitar."
He laughed. "And I realized it was really hard. I found out I wasn't very good at that."
Instead, he gravitated toward the resonator guitar.
"Bluegrass has so many 16th notes," Beck explained. "They're just flying right along, but the dobro just spoke to me. It's one of the few acoustic instruments that can sustain notes. It's the electric guitar of acoustic instruments."
And Beck said he didn't come to bluegrass by listening to mainstream bluegrass bands.
He said, "I got into bluegrass the way a lot of the younger generation did, which is by listening to Old and in the Way."
Old and in the Way was a 1970s bluegrass supergroup featuring The Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia, who traded in his guitar for a banjo.
Beck said the Grateful Dead was required listening if you were into jam bands. It's a root for many of the band in the jam music scene today. As a fan of the Grateful Dead, Beck explored the band's many side projects, including Old and in the Way.
Old and in the Way's self-titled debut record went on to become one of the best selling bluegrass records of all time, but Beck said some of the mainstream bluegrass fans paid very little attention to it.
"It was always sort of scoffed at because of the hippie side of it and the Grateful Dead association," Beck said. "But for people like me and countless others, I got into bluegrass through this vein."
Beck said he listened to the couple of Old and in the Way records released, and he wondered about the other guys in the band, like mandolin player David Grisman. Through Grisman's records, he stumbled across guitarist Tony Rice, and through Rice, many others.
"Suddenly I'm listening to Bela Fleck and wondering who wrote all those songs?"
Step by step, each artist walked him back to Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and the guys who started what everyone thinks of as bluegrass music.
Beck said, "For me and everyone in my band, that's pretty much how we stumbled onto this music."
Once they got to the source, to the beginning, that's where they started really learning how to play.
Beck laughed, "You don't try and learn what Bela Fleck and the Flecktones are doing. You have to go through the old songs and the history of the music."
Once you know the music's past, he said, you can take it forward, which is what Greensky Bluegrass and other bands that are part of what Beck calls "the bluegrass counterculture" have tried to do.
This counterculture bluegrass, like The Grateful Dead, is big on improvisation and jams. Some songs are never played the same way twice.
"We're not afraid to stretch them out, but the point isn't to come up with another 10-minute song."
It's more about seeing where the song can go.
Reach Bill Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5195.