On Gillian Welch, Guthrie Kennard and Americana-inspired road trips
When I was 22 years old I discovered Gillian Welch. I’d grown up on 70’s folk (though I never saw a day of the 70’s myself) and loved the southern and Appalachian-influenced folk rock of bands like Brewer & Shipley and Aztec Two Step, but hadn’t really gotten into the real traditional stuff until a friend passed me Time(the Revelator). Now, before you start arguing, I know that Gillian Welch is not strictly traditional, but she was my first introduction to that cool neo-trad movement that was so big in the early aughts. It was not hard to decide to spend spring break on a road trip to Wilkesboro, North Carolina where Gillian was scheduled to play a few shows at Merlefest.
It might be tacky to say it was a revelation, but I’m a fan of calling things as they are. Merlefest is an Americana festival, heavy on bluegrass but also featured a lot of those high energy new at the time young bands (Think Old Crow Medicine Show and the Avett Brothers, just on the cusp of success). It was also a glimpse at a music scene where acts aren’t retired by 35. The biggest stars of the of the scene were of the older generation. Octogenarian Doc Watson closes out every Merlefest, the audience rapt. Merlefest opened up a whole new world of music for me– traditional bluegrass and Appalachian, neo-trad and others. It was also my first real introduction to the mid-level band– the kind you can still possibly get the chance to talk to after their set (still my favorite kind of band to see).
I always have my eyes open for new and new-to-me Americana acts. Here’s a man you may not have heard of: Guthrie Kennard. He’s one of those dudes who seems to have been everywhere and yet often under the radar. He’s best known as a bassist for the likes of blues and renegade country artists like Ray Wylie Hubbard. But he also puts out his own records. When I first heard his newest release “Matchbox”, it gave me a real Gillian Welch vibe, even though his scratchy growl and Gillian’s clear treble could not be more different. But Guthrie’s album radiates the same sense of calm that I get from Revelator or Soul Journey. He makes an album that sounds homey and traditional, yet utterly his own voice.
Here are my two favorites from his new album:
Check him out at www.guthriekennard.com