Author: Little, Cameron

Bluegrass, Lasers, and Flashing Shoelaces

One thing you can count on with bluegrass musicians is they have a guaranteed and bonafide calico quilt of a musical pedigree. It seems like the more talented the player, the more diverse their roots. At any given bluegrass festival, usually if you stay up late enough, you’ll hear rock ‘n roll, old time, jazz, folk, metal, classical and all things in-between.

This might seem like an odd place to mention that this is the 40th anniversary of the legendary 1973 Pink Floyd album Dark Side of the Moon. It’s relevant here because I had the good fortune to see Poor Man’s Whiskey at an intimate venue in the small gold country town of Auburn. This is a band known to step on stage wearing prison stripes, whiskey barrels, or graduation robes. Their jokester demeanor belies solid musicianship with deep bluegrass, old time southern rock, and jamband influences.

The band hit the stage with good ‘ol blazing bluegrass, including a very intuitive medley of “Cripple Creek/Cluck Old Hen/Old Joe Clark” (yes, it CAN be done!). After a few more classics that kept the crowd on their feet, the band took a brief set break and went backstage. They soon returned, stepped back onstage, picked up their instruments, and prepared to play. Oh, and I forgot to mention. They were all dressed as characters from the Wizard of Oz. Complete with Dorothy and the Wicked Witch, even though this was an all-dude band. Now, some of you may be wondering why they dressed up, and it’s in reference to a long-standing urban myth that Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album was originally intended to be played as a soundtrack for the Wizard of Oz movie. I’m not sure what the true story is, but I’m pretty sure that nobody intentionally envisioned a hairy-chested Dorothy on banjo...

The crowd, many in Oz-style costumes, thickened into a mosh pit of happy bluegrass/Poor Man’s Whiskey enthusiasts. Emitting an After Hours/Strawberry vibe with very tall men wearing flashing bunny ears and signs that say “Free Hugs!”, the folks at a Poor Man’s Whiskey concert are always a reminder that you’re not in Kansas anymore.

After donning their Oz garb (“...and your little dog, too!”), the band played their entire album, “Dark Side of the Moonshine”, complete with a psychedelic laser light show, and delivered mesmerizing renditions of “Breathe”, “Us and Them”, and “Eclipse”, with full audience participation. Their grassidelic take on the music, the jokes and onstage shenanigans, combine to a downright enchantment. When playing “Whiskey” (their version of Pink Floyd’s “Money”), they brought a couple gals onstage holding milk crates of beer cans for one of the band members to open, to provide sound effects (okay, just imagine the unmistakeable sound of an aluminum pop-top under pressure). Naturally, this left several dozen open cans of beer, but fear not! This band doesn’t know the meaning of “waste”. They proceeded to distribute the many dozen beers, much to the delight of the crowd. Many dancers were observed throughout the evening holding a beer in each hand. I wore light-up flashing shoelaces for the event and using these precise instruments was able to accurately gauge the general inebriated/sober ratio of the crowd, based on how many test subjects exclaimed, “Duuuuuuude!” or, “Whoaaaaa!” upon seeing my flashing laces. I was complemented on being part of the light show.

The band closed the evening with several acoustic bluegrass tunes at about 1am. The crowd left in a sated, mellow mood, with hugs exchanged between complete strangers, and folks checking each others’ sobriety and sharing rides home.

Six degrees note: My Facebook pal Ron Rose recently sent me a link to ukelele virtuoso, Jake Shimabukuro, who recently worked with Alan Parsons, who famously engineered Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album. Whoa, duuuude!

(Cameron Little is a teen bluegrasser hanging out and playing music on his family’s 160-acre ranch in the Sierra foothills. Next festival, look for the guy with the flashing shoelaces...)
Posted:  3/16/2013

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