Hooked on Bluegrass

Dan Booth

I started playing bluegrass around age 12 when my dad thought I was good enough to play bass in his band. I was raised in Anchorage, Alaska into a very musical household. That is, I couldn't get away from country or bluegrass no matter how hard I tried!

My father Greg was a professional pedal steel and banjo player for over 30 years, and until I was about eight that was his main profession. This was great because he was home during the day a lot, which gave plenty of time for adventures like climbing mountains, extreme sledding and building epic rope swings. The downside was at night I often had to go see him play 80's country, which amongst my school friends was the least cool of any kind of music. Bluegrass was a close second. So humming Ricky Skaggs songs at school doesn't help making friends... Lesson learned! However I seemed to have a knack for it, so I went through the motions and picked up acoustic and electric bass, acoustic guitar and a little mandolin.

I had major encouragement early on from the fiddle camp director of Alaska, Mary Schallert, who introduced me to Ginger Boatwright and Doug Dillard when they toured to Alaska. A man named Ken Terry pioneered the bluegrass festivals in Alaska, and I was fortunate enough to play at some of these alongside my dad. Also in the band were Frank Solivan Jr, Bernard Glansbeek, Joel Kadarauch and Joe Page, whom later on would have a tremendous influence on me. Going to all night jams where the sun practically never went down left a beautiful imprint in my mind of blugrass culture. I also knew Jason Norris and Angela Oudean (of Bearfoot) from fiddle camp but I didn't go to school with them, so as long as I was in school bluegrass just wasn't cool!

It wasn't until 2001, when I was a sophmore in college that I became truly hooked on bluegrass. I had been playing rock and roll electric guitar for about two years, rebelling against my country and bluegrass roots, when two things happened. The first was going to see Leftover Salmon. What a sound! This was the music I was familiar with growing up, but with the energy and excitement of rock and roll. The second thing was that O'Brother Where Art Thou came out, and bluegrass became cool overnight. Those two things solidified returning to my bluegrass roots, and it became my mission to spread the word: bluegrass rules! Next thing I knew I was playing with Ginger Boatwright all over Alaska, then Bearfoot asked me to tour with them to Colorado and Ireland. Now I play bluegrass professionally with my dad, and am hooked for life!

(posted 1/28/2010)

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