Highline Ballroom, NYC
Sunday, 23 Jan 2011
When you think of New York City, a lot of thoughts come into your head. It’s an eclectic place in every aspect, and music is no exception. The Big Apple has it all, even bluegrass. In a candle lit Highline Ballroom rich with the smells of good wine and even better food, The Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America’s 2010 band of the year, The Grascals, brought their smooth sound to the big city this past Sunday.
This Nashville based sextet finely blended their instruments and voices together to create a take on the historic and rural genre that anyone can appreciate. This was highly evident from the beginning when Jamie Johnson’s unmistakable voice opened the set with the first verse of the bluegrass classic “Happy Go Lucky”. Instantly all attention turned directly to the stage, and the night had begun.
The Grascals are obviously proud of their roots, and are more than happy to honor those who inspired them. A flawless medley of classics by Hank Williams Jr. made the cut, including “All My Rowdy Friends Are Comin’ Over Tonight” and “Born To Boogie.” Without a doubt, Bo Cephus would be proud. Yet, the song that most proudly proclaimed their country heritage was clearly “Louisiana Saturday Night.” The foot stomping, energetic tune made sure to get all those in attendance going, even the staff and lone metal head in the room.
Standards and country covers are hardly all that makes up The Grascals’ set list though. The band has an amazing ability to take any song and make it bluegrass. The Monkee’s 1969 debut hit single “Last Train To Clarksville” was clearly owned by the group, especially with the picking abilities of the beautiful, three-time award winning banjo player, Kristin Scott Benson.
Even deeper, however, do the abilities of these talented musicians run. Original music and charitable hearts are also solidly within their repertoire. Their newest song, “I Am Strong” is not only a stunning piece of music, but also a fine tool to help children in need. Originally inspired when Jamie Johnson and his wife first saw the “I Am” board at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, the track was recorded on their newest album “The Grascals & Friends” with guest Dolly Parton. The group intends to use the song to help raise funds for the non-profit charitable hospital located in Memphis, Tennessee. Hearing the song performed live this night, the emotion and extreme empathy the members have for the children and their families was totally evident. It was impossible not to feel the same thing evoked within yourself.
This show was an impressive display of bluegrass in every aspect. The abilities of The Grascals are clearly endless, as is their talent. A bright future continues to lay ahead for them. One can hope that the road they walk, will once again lead them to New York.