Anyone who ever spent any time with Bill Monroe talking about where his music came from knows that, for the Father of Bluegrass, it was as simple as black and white – “the old Southern blues” of his mentor Arnold Schulz, a black Kentucky guitar player and fiddler, combined with the Monroe family’s ancestral Scotch/Irish fiddle tunes and ballads learned from Uncle Pen Vandiver and Monroe’s mother, Melissa. That’s the “hybrid vigor,” Webb Wilder talks about.
March 17 at Cumberland Caverns, The Volcano Room goes green in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, as Bluegrass Underground showcases the Celtic side of the Monrovian equation with the Boxty Bluegrass Band.
If you never heard of the group, don’t worry, it’s a spanking-new all-star combo that fiddler/singer Stephanie Taylor put together for the occasion. She’s no stranger to BGU , having performed there with Dana Romanello and frequently attended shows. So when BGU producer Todd Mayo came up with the idea of putting together an Irish-flavored bluegrass band for St. Paddy’s Day, she jumped at it.
“I did an album a couple years ago, produced by Troy Engle, and on that album are some definitely Irish-influenced songs,” Taylor says. “So Todd knew that, and he also knew I’d spent a couple of weeks in Ireland this past summer studying and teaching traditional Irish music with some students from MTSU.”
The Boxty Bluegrass Band (Boxty are those Irish potato pancakes) features Engle on fiddle, mandolin and guitar, along with jam-band veteran Barry Waldrep from Georgia’s Rollin’ in the Hay, on mandolin, guitar and vocals. Waldrep also has toured with The Zac Brown Band and with Joey + Rory when Taylor was also in that band. Another friend, John Fox, fills out the group on bass, guitar and vocals.
Taylor has also backed country singers Billy Yates and GRAMMY-nominee Chris Young, but her day job is being an attorney with the Nashville firm of Bone McAllester Norton. She has also taught entertainment and copyright law at MTSU.
But she was raised a fiddler in South Dakota, a regional tradition closer to Celtic music or Canadian fiddling than to more improvisational bluegrass. “I didn’t really play bluegrass until I moved here (to Nashville) in 2004,” she explains. “ It just didn’t exist where I was living. I had to learn how to jam in a very different way. Where I grew up, when you jam, everybody plays the melody together. And when I was in Ireland it was the same style of jamming, everybody played the melody together. I was more comfortable in an Irish jam session than I am in a bluegrass jam session here in Tennessee.”
But don’t expect traditional Irish music from the Boxty Bluegrass Band.
“We discovered what we were really drawn to was a lot of story songs, I think because so much of that connects to Nashville songwriting. So what we have is not really so much traditional Irish music as it is bluegrass and country influenced music that has Irish undertones or Irish stories to it. We’ll do things like “House Carpenter,” and I sing Nanci Griffith’s ‘Trouble in the Fields.’ We just bring all of our diverse backgrounds to do songs that tell great stories about Ireland and help us connect with our roots.”
And, while much of her musical life has been spent as a hired gun, she’s enjoying leading her own band. “This has been fun. I got to pick the people and these are my favorite people to make music with.”
But she’s not giving up her day job. For her, playing bluegrass and representing musicians go together like Jameson’s and coffee. Taylor, who seems to know everyone in the Nashville bluegrass scene, says playing gigs is a much better way to make business contacts than the lawyer’s typical 18 holes.
“That’s my mission, to help musicians make a living playing music. Most attorneys golf to network. Bluegrass is my golf.”
You can get a preview of the Boxty Bluegrass Band on this week’s Music City Roots (7 p.m. Central, on MusicCityRoots.com and on the radio on Lightning 100 - WRLT; 100.1 FM).
With a name like Shannon Quinn, you know Saturday’s opening act will keep the St. Paddy’s Day theme going. The young, multi-talented Canadian singer/dancer/instrumentalist performs music deeply rooted in her family’s Irish traditions.
- Larry Nager
The Boxty Bluegrass Band with Shannon Quinn
Saturday, March 17, 2012
1437 Cumberland Caverns Rd
McMinnville, TN, USA 37110