The Brotherhood of Bluegrass
The Gibson Brothers have won so many awards it would be ridiculous to name them all here. Suffice to say, if you had to choose to hear only one bluegrass band perform live in your entire life (and what a sad choice that would be — only one!), then this would be the band.
On a night when three-fifths of the band were suffering annoying head colds, it wasn’t noticeable (other than the occasional cough or sniffle) in the least by their performance. Brothers Eric and Leigh Gibson’s vocal harmonies blended as well as so many brother duo groups before them: Louvins, Stanleys, Monroes, Everlys, Yorks. From the well-known to the obscure, the Gibsons pay homage to them on their newest album, the aptly titled Brotherhood (2015, Rounder), chock-full of pre-bluegrass, first-generation bluegrass, hardcore country and early rock ’n’ roll standards.
In two sets, the quintet (Eric on banjo and guitar, Leigh on guitar, fiddler Clayton Campbell, bassist Mike Barber, and Jesse Brock on mandolin) gave the appreciative crowd a heaping helping of selections from Brotherhood as well as favorites from nearly their entire catalog, highlights from which included “One Raindrop,” “Iron & Diamonds,” “Farm of Yesterday,” “Frozen in Time,” “Walkin’ West to Memphis,” “They Called It Music,” as well as the Bill Monroe classic “Big Mon.”
The brothers absolutely shined with their close harmonies that gave me goosebumps, and Jesse Brock’s mandolin was flawless and deeply soulful, his fingers a flash of flesh as they flew up and down the fretboard. It is simply impossible to keep still when hearing this music, especially in a live setting, and my legs were actually sore from all the toe-tapping.
Playing this type of music requires very close concentration, and you could see it on the musicians’ faces as they glanced at one another, squinting, turning their heads slightly to catch every nuance from one another. Still, there was time for playful brother-to-brother banter between songs, many stories about growing up on the family’s dairy farm in northern New York near the Canadian border, and Eric’s status as favorite son and their mother’s pet name for him, “Honeyboy.” It was all great fun and a truly memorable display of top-shelf musicians keeping old traditions alive, while setting the bar high for generations to come.
Photo courtesy of Tom Garland