Let’s just admit it. Bluegrass performers can be a bit stiff and predictable. They don’t move around a lot on stage. And their collective repertoire leans heavily toward songs about going back to the “old homeplace,” there to reunite with “little darlin’” and/or to make things right with mama.
Then there’s the matter of band names. The uninitiated may grow faint and dizzy after hearing a rapid succession of references to the Blue Grass Boys, the Foggy Mountain Boys, the Clinch Mountain Boys, the Sunny Mountain Boys and the Seven Storey Mountain Boys. Not to mention the other boys residing in and around all the world’s rivers and valleys.
Lately, though, more and more bluegrass bands are giving themselves names that suggest there may be standup comics lurking beneath that accountant-like demeanor. The tendency toward self-mockery started at least as far back as the early ’70s with the arrival of the Seldom Scene (not to be confused with the much-later Rarely Herd) and intensified through such memorable musical aggregations as the Good Ol’ Persons (in tune with both themselves and the times) and the Outdoor Plumbing Company (primitive but always reliable).
Looking over this year’s festival listings we see the Prickly Pair (a brother act?), Fred’s Mobile Home (never book them with the Texas Tornados), the Bluegrass Power Company (truly electrifying), the Fastest Grass Alive (averages eight shows a week), Gopher Broke Bluegrass (animals every one) and Special Consensus (a great moniker, don’t you agree).
In the thicket of the Internet we encountered Acoustic Mayhem (a brother act?), Blueground Undergrass (all the right elements in all the wrong places), Coup de Grass (they always end their set with “Rocky Top”), Creamed Corn (smooth but somehow unsatisfying), Infernal Racket (unstoppable), Kick The Hobbit String Band (grads gone bad), Limestone Cowboy (like a Rhinestone Cowboy before media training), Mountain Therapy (tell me about this ringing in your ears?), Standing Stones (what the Rolling Stones would be with one microphone), the Air Conditioners (too cool for the room) and the Western Virus (catchy, very catchy).
Before you snicker about all those going-back-home songs, however, realize that this is the bedrock theme of Western literature. What is The Odyssey, after all, but just another account of a long journey home? And isn’t the Hades we see depicted there very much like Detroit?