Author: Varner, Mark

Mumford band

Dear friends,

I’m back after a whole month off. Rick was kind of enough to allow me a furlough from Welcoming the welcomees so I could bivouac in my mountain retreat. I’ve been fighting the Battle of the Breakdown June Issue-slash-Father’s Day Event Program. Though there were times I doubted by redoutments, I managed to come through on time and reasonably unscathed by errors or omissions. Oh! They are there, don’t get me wrong. I find them when I’m eating lunch and pointlessly post-proofing the tome. Anyway, we do our best.

So, that happened. Another thing that happens is that I have virtually no free time to wander loose, like a free man. So I find myself seeking amusement on the same computer on which I do everything else, like work. I found this little parody on YouTube the other day. Check it out if you’d like – it’s very funny, imho.

It is a parody of Mumford and Sons, that on-and-most-likely-over-the-edge-of-bluegrass group that is supremely popular in the pop music world. In this video parody they are telling one and all to join in the craze and create a Mumford band of their own:

“Grab every single one of your friends,
and start a Mumford band.”

A little background on the origins of the fad for semi-old-timey-ish music:

“We saw O Brother, Where Art Thou,
and said lets start a band right now.”

And as you can see, these parodists are lampooning the street cred and the chops of these bands, rather than their merits either as hot pickers or pop artists. Which is fair, cause I will posit that you (the collective You) and I do just the same thing in our judgment of acts.

As you can imagine, I told you that to tell you this. I was very happy to see our good friends Snap Jackson and the Knock on Wood Players were playing at a big time venue in Santa Cruz last Thursday night. Frau Varner and I put on the Ritz and motored down to the big city to see the show at the famous Moe’s Alley. We got there during the first band, which was the local group, the Naked Bootleggers. Headed up by our old friend Ono, this already large ensemble was enhanced by another two old friends, Dayan Kai (ex of Water) on fiddle and Jeremy Lampel (ex of Strungover).

While the last mentioned well respected Santa Cruz musicians added some fine breaks, it was primarily no less than a full on Mumford band. The sound is not cacophonous, but also not well manicured, like a good bluegrass ensemble must be. It’s not really old time, either, which is often even tighter than bluegrass. It’s not really jug band music because it’s less rollicking and loose. So it’s what I am classifying as a new species: Homo Mumford. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Lest that previous passage sound denigrating, no, not at all. This gig was kind of a big deal because bluegrass, or even sorta bluegrass shows are fairly rare at this rock, blues, reggae bar. That’s part of the reason I was enthused to attend and check out the scene. I saw no advertising in the entertainment sections of the local papers, other than the calendar. I was afraid it would be poorly attended. But no! It was an excellent crowd of young people. They were most definitely not a bluegrass crowd and I saw few of the “bluegrass community” at the show. It was funny to see their lack of protocol. Snap gave them instructions: if you hear a good break, make some noise. But it did not work. I found myself, towards the back of the audience, nursing my Guinness, and hooting like a fool whenever it was warranted, to fill in the empty spaces. And to show some love, after all!

In fact that night Snap and Company, who one might want to send off to the Mumford ghetto at times, were the representatives of traditional bluegrass. I was proud of their choices to play some standards by Martin, Flatt and Scruggs and Monroe. Played straight up, the soloists were smokin’. Shane’s fiddling, Snap on Scruggs style, and Eric’s excellent guitar work were marvelously supported by Brian’s fine bass playing. And was it exotic to the audience? Clearly!

But they loved the whole evening and were very enthusiastic about The Knock and Wood Players set, along with the other performances. The last band up was the Bluetail Flies. Everyone responds to great vocals and this band has them. A trio of female singers buzzed through their harmonies like a hive of bees… or the Andersons. But instrumentally… Mumford band.

I have been to the land of the Mumford band and it’s not such a bad place. These kids will hopefully benefit by inclusion of other, more straight ahead bluegrass bands in their musical journey of enlightenment.

Your pal,
Mark Varner

Posted:  6/3/2013

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