Buffalo has had a strong bluegrass scene for a long time but you’d be forgiven for not knowing as much – the scene remains somewhat of an underground one, sometimes favoring unconventional venues during time slots that buck the late-night hours generally held to be the norm by clubgoers.
It’s there, though, and as a well-attended late afternoon show at the Sportsmen’s Tavern (326 Amherst St.) on Sunday proved, there is a fan base hungry for this particularly deep strain of Americana.
The occasion this time around was a twin-set appearance by the Mountain Run Bluegrass Band, which might reasonably be described as a local bluegrass all-star ensemble. Made up of veterans of the roots music scene – one is tempted to call it a revival, but that would imply that this music ever went away in the first place, and that’s not the case – Mountain Run plays bluegrass the way the great spirit intended. That’s to say, it’s pure, on point, drummerless, intimate, both bawdy and subtle, and with an obvious and appropriate reverence for the father of the movement, Bill Monroe.
Mountain Run – guitarist/vocalist Doug Yeomans, bassist/vocalist Jim Whitford, banjo player and singer John Martz, and dobro/harmonica/accordion overseer Mark Panfil – doffed its cap to Monroe several times during Sunday’s Sportsmen’s gig, which found both the main floor and the balcony area stuffed with folks who seemed to know their bluegrass. A cover of Monroe’s “Dig A Hole” was fiery and up-tempo, with Whitford’s upright bass shoveling coal in the engine room and Yeomans, Martz and Panfil playing with a seemingly telepathic congruence. All of these musicians play with countless other ensembles and pick-up bands in the area, but there is quite clearly a sense of necessity in the music they create together. A late-in-the-show take on Monroe’s “I’m Going Back to Old Kentucky” – introduced by Yeomans as “the greatest bluegrass tune of them all,” which is a serious claim – found the guitarist offering a display of flat-picking chops that was both technically dazzling and deeply musical, with both Martz and Panfil trading licks around him. Jaw-dropping stuff.
Fans of jam bands have always had a soft spot for bluegrass, principally because the Grateful Dead – which started its life as a jug band, and made its name playing a sort of psychedelic hybrid of electric music and old-timey stuff – always displayed a reverence for the form. The Dead’s Jerry Garcia released several albums in the bluegrass idiom during his lifetime, many of them made in conjunction with mandolinist Dave Grisman, and in particular released beneath the imprimatur Old & In the Way. It was that ensemble’s version of “Pig In A Pen” that Mountain Run used as a starting point for one of the highlights of Sunday’s show, and man, did these ever get that thing cookin’.
The whole show was remarkable, but particular highlights included Yeomans leading the group through a convincing reworking of Green Day’s “Time of Your Life” as a bluegrass tune, and a Panfil-led rendition of “I Know What It Means to Be Lonesome,” a tune associated with the great Ricky Skaggs.
Many years back, I watched Yeomans lead a similar ensemble through a set of killer bluegrass jams at Allen St. Hardware, before a very different but equally attentive audience. He blew me away then, and he and his bandmates did the same on Sunday. The cozy and homey vibe of the Sportsmen’s provided the perfect setting for some highly enjoyable pickin’ and grinnin’. The group will return to the venue twice during March. See Facebook.com/Montain Run All Star Bluegrass Band for details.
Buffalove: Buffed up and ready to go with year No. 3
The Buffalove Music Festival has made a name for itself as one of the essential got-to events of the summer for regional music lovers over the past few years. What makes the festival special is the manner in which organizers grant equal time to the cream of the local band crop and national touring acts, offering a seamless weekend of music on several stages in a rural campground setting.
This year’s event will take place from June 18 to 20 in the Chautauqua County village of Panama, and will feature sets from Particle, Imperial Brown, Space Junk & Sonder, Mister F, Funktional Flow, and dozens of others. A party to celebrate the announcement of the full lineup will take place at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Buffalo Iron Works (49 Illinois St.). The show will feature a performance by one of the bands slated to perform at Buffalove, Pink Talking Fish, an ensemble formed by former Particle bassist Eric Gould, and dedicated to performing an interpretive hybrid of the music of Pink Floyd, Talking Heads and Phish. The band has been creating a national buzz over the past year, based on its abilities to craft convincing real-time “mash-ups” from the revered source material.
Tickets are available through Ticketfly.com. They’re priced $13 advance, $18 day of show.
By George …
Fans of Buffalo’s legendary progressive rock/jazz fusion ensemble Gamalon should note that one of that legendary band’s guitarist, George Puleo, will bring his ongoing concern Haiku to the Sportsmen’s Tavern on Wednesday for an early show, kicking off at 7 p.m. The band will be joined by former Talas guitarist and area blues-rock icon Dave Constantino. A cover of $5 will get you in the door. Seems like a great warm-up for the Pink Talking Fish show.