Bright, Ludiker, Dalton, & Smith – Bluegrass “Super Group” from Austin, Live December 12th, 2009 at Roddy Tree’s Lazy Days Canteen in Ingram, Texas –
By Rod Ames
I have always completely enjoyed…no, loved Bluegrass music. The fiddle, the banjo, the mandolin, the upright bass, all coming together as one, to envelop our ears with sounds that seem to sprout from the rich fertile soil just beneath our feet. It is undoubtedly the “rootsiest” of all roots music. When it’s performed, one can almost smell the richness of the earth.
When great bluegrass musicians perform, and then begin clicking on all pistons, it can be one of the most sonically pleasing sounds that can invade the ear. You start imagining things growing out of this metaphorically rich soil as it begins to not just penetrate every pore of your body but also seems to grow around you, engulfing your entire being. You begin to experience precisely what the artist(s) intended when the first few notes began pouring into the right side of their brains.
Last night, at a small venue that lies between Ingram and Hunt Texas called The Lazy Days Canteen, this phenomenon occurred thanks to four incredible musicians from the Austin area. Billy Bright on mandolin and vocals, Dennis Ludiker on the fiddle, Jesse Dalton on the upright bass and vocals, and finally, Trevor Smith on the banjo, all came together to perform there version of some very progressive bluegrass. It is what can happen when an appreciation for all forms of music come together to invade another.
In this case there were strong influences from traditional jazz music. So I guess you could call it “Bluejazz” if you’d like. They were actually trying to think of a name for themselves so I’m going to throw that one out there. “Bluejazz” – somewhat catchy, however, I’m not too sure that is the appropriate name since it may not fully explain what these four fine musicians are capable of accomplishing. They are extremely proficient at transcending many different genres without abandoning the essence of what they are, bluegrass.
First off, the venue itself lends itself to the occasion by providing an environment for artists such as these to shine. It was a little sad to see there were so few people to witness such an exciting event. This area is the home of the world renowned Kerrville Folk Festival and why there doesn’t appear to be more interest in shows like this baffles me. However, I was ashamed of myself for depriving myself of this wonderful little spot along the Guadalupe River for as long as I have. Since this is a hub for the roots music scene this area should be a hot bed for venues like this, yet there are very few. Hopefully The Lazy Days Canteen with Keith Asbury at the reins will get things rolling for more of these type venues in the future.
Besides, they serve wonderful food ranging from fajitas to ribs to burgers, which are served right up until showtime at 8:30 pm. The food is wonderfully prepared by Chef Jef (AKA Jeff Gavin) with his lovely wife Mimi lending a hand. Mr. Gavin also played a large part in finding these four amazing musicians. Come to find out he’s an accomplished picker and singer himself. He is also one of the organizers of the annual Rice Festival in Fischer Texas.
I arrived somewhat late and missed most of the first set, but after talking to Trevor Smith, the banjo player for this impressive quartet (whose fingers seemed to glide effortlessly up and down the neck of his five stringed instrument) he stated he doesn’t ever get warmed up until he’s well into the second set anyway. And he was right. As good as the first set was, the second set was, for lack of a better word, amazing!
Billy Bright was remarkable as far as the things he could manipulate a mandolin into doing. His lead vocals reminded me of the great artist, Dave Alvin. Mr. Bright is the front man for the band and his leadership abilities on the stage were unquestionable. The band performed many original songs written by Mr. Bright and did at least one by Mr. Alvin himself. He has been involved with such great artists, such as, Tony Rice, Vassar Clements, Peter Rowan, and many others. Currently he divides his time with the Two High String Band and the Hays County Burn Band. He compiled this particular talented band of pickers exclusively for the Lazy Days Cantina at Roddy Tree Ranch performance.
Dennis Ludiker on fiddle was tremendous and literally “tore it up” every time it was his turn to play a solo. He has been playing since he was 3 years old, playing a 1/16 size fiddle. Since then, he has played and mastered just about anything with strings. He accompanied Mr. Bright on one tune in sort of a dueling mandolins number. He’s a past Washington State Fiddle Champion, won the Winfield Open Champion in ’02, and is a two time Texas state champion at the Fiddlers Frolics in Hallettsville Texas. He played in the South Austin Jug Band for 7 years, and now fronts the band Milk Drive in Austin.
Trevor Smith on banjo was superb and especially showed his talent on an Earl Scruggs tune. Jesse Dalton played the upright bass and was wonderful through out the performance. The band’s stage presence was fluid and they all seemed to be enjoying themselves tremendously.
I was again amazed to find out these four young men had only played together a few times. Jesse Dalton and Trevor Smith have picked together for about three years with Green Mountain Grass. Mr. Dalton explained, “It’s a self-induced psychedelic frenzy of quick-witted talent as seen from the other side of the musical looking-glass.”
The quartet certainly expounded this time after time, song after song, sometimes changing tempo mid-stream and improvising into somewhat of a progressive bluegrass jam that would border on something that could be misinterpreted as being drug induced, when it is actually, quite simply, great music being imaginatively improvised by four tremendously talented bluegrass musicians.