Denver Bluegrass Generals
30 January 2016 - Cervantes’ Masterpiece - Denver, CO
for The Lot Scene by Parker
Band Members: Andy Hall - dobro; Bill Nershi - guitar; Keith Moseley - bass, electric bass; Chris Pandolfi - banjo; Billy Strings - mandolin, guitar
Nothing quite like music in the wintertime in Colorado. Especially when you’ve got a bit of snow going to really seal the deal for you. There’s just something about braving a bit of inclement weather to get to a venue so that, once inside, you can feel all cozy alongside your music community waiting for the magic to be meted out from the stage. Not that it was a blizzard or anything, but the big, soft flakes falling outside the doors of Cervantes’ Masterpiece in Denver made being warm inside with beverage in hand all the more satisfying. We arrived in time to see the opening band, TAARKA, play most of their set. Really nice and mellow string band music out of nearby Lyons, CO. A great intro for the Denver Bluegrass Generals to follow…and follow they did. In spades. What a lineup on stage for the evening’s enjoyment, right? Hall and Pandolfi from The Infamous Stringdusters. Nershi and Moseley from The String Cheese Incident. And the indomitable Mr. Billy Strings. Wow. As in about 300 tons of wow. So many different styles on stage, so many different approaches. All wrapped up into one mighty fine ensemble of bluegrass musicianship — and extremely enjoyable to witness, let me tell you. Dressed in various paramilitary garb for the event, the Generals took to the stage to command the remainder of our night with just the kind of leadership we’d all come to expect. And their first official action of the evening: execute “Project Fast Pickin’”. It was time for some serious and seriously good music to ensue.
Starting out with some New Riders of the Purple Sage, shall we? We shall, indeed! Peter Rowan’s “Panama Red” made for a perfect opener for this, the second night of the Denver Bluegrass Generals’ stint at Cervantes’. Keith Moseley took to the mic for this one, delivering this cautionary tale as only “Moose” can. Pandolfi’s banjo could be heard as a lovely constant throughout the song counterpointing fine solos from Hall on dobro and Nershi on guitar. If this was any indication of how the evening was to progress, we were all in for something special. And certainly in for some supremely excellent music. Which is precisely why we all gathered there that night. The second song was an Andy Hall lead which featured some superb guitar work from Billy Nershi as well as the other Billy on mandolin. It was plain to see already that they came to kill it that night. And I mean summarily, too. It’s always so interesting and gratifying to see musicians playing such serious music with such readily apparent enjoyment written all over their beings. It just adds so much more depth to the experience. Nershi took point on the next song, Jim Croce’s “Age”, Panda’s banjo shining out for the entirety and Billy Strings’ guitar solo showing us exactly just how talented that young man truly is. “I've traded love for pennies, sold my soul for less, lost my ideals in that long tunnel of time. I've turned inside out and around about and back and then, found myself right back where I started again.” Just love those lyrics — man, if that doesn’t sound a bit familiar at times, no? Of course, the evening would seem a bit remiss if we didn’t get a few songs from the two bands represented on stage and we weren’t to be disappointed in the slightest. The first of many covers from the Dusters and Cheese that night was “Well, Well” sung by Andy Hall. And, lucky for you, we have that very selection here for your viewing enjoyment:
Killing it, right? I mean, just slaying it and we were only four songs in! And we were far from done… The next solo fell to Billy Strings as he crooned out “Lonesome River” for us in his powerful baritone, accompanying himself on mando. Really nice vocal harmonies in this one. I mean the kind that give you chills. And I had no idea that Billy Strings played the mandolin! This concert was a real eye-opener in many ways, but that little nugget was a big revelation. And, of course, he shreds on the wee instrument. A little later in the set came an old bluegrass favorite, “Old Home Place”, which delivered tight multipart harmonies to bolster Pandolfi’s crystal clear solo and lots of good old fashioned pickin’ from all the assembled Generals. Andy Hall was back up next to the microphone for another Dusters’ song, “Gettin’ Down the Road”, containing an excellent guitar solo from Nershi and a wild and wonderful one from Andy on dobro, I might add. Amazing amounts of energy pouring from the stage on this one. especially when you have Nershi, Panda, and Billy all bouncing around like happy children. This was followed by a great and grassy “I Know You Rider” with the vocal trio of Nershi, Moseley, and Hall nailing the harmonies — really sounded massively good. Billy Strings’ mando solo definitely of note here. How many times all night did I hear people around me saying things like “damn!” and “holy sh*t!” when it came to Billy’s playing? He certainly made some new fans that evening. Panda threw down his brand of musical attitude with a long and epic solo of his own. Big song, big sound, big appreciation from the crowd. “Little Maggie” was up next with Billy Stings on lead vocals — and what lead vocals! Not only can this man play, he can sing, too! And really sing! A bouncing fun little song warning against the lady in the title. Hard drivin’, fast pickin’. ‘Nuff said. TAARKA’s fiddle player, Enion Pelta-Tiller, joined them for some instrumental fun next with String Cheese’s “Lonesome Fiddle Blues”. This one was a perfect example of kick-ass nasty good music. The crowd went crazy when the familiar melodic line broke out on stage and I did, too. Great musical moment from the evening’s proceedings. And more Cheese you say? More? You want more? Well, OK, then. How about some “Restless Wind” for you? Mighty good, mighty lovely treatment of this song. Another crowd-pleaser for the Denver audience, too…had us all singing along for the entirety of the song. Andy and Nershi dominated the mellow, grooving center section of this one with the interplay of their instruments. Surely one helluva closer for the first set. It was going to be hard to top or even equal that after set break…
…but wait until you hear what they opened with. Not Bill Monroe. Not more Peter Rowan. Not even Del. But with a surprise not even Nostradamus could’ve called: “The A-Team Theme”. No, you read that right. The theme to that totally radical TV hit from the 80s. B.A. Hannibal. The whole crew. All grassed up and with one place to be — Cervantes’ Masterpiece. Man, was this a fun one. Badass is another word for it. What a way to kick of the second set! And it really sounded fantastic, too. Groovy as all hell and super nostalgic to boot. Many thanks to the good Generals for this little treat! Falling back into the bluegrass tradition once again, Moseley was up for the lead on “Catfish John” yet another big crowd favorite. This one also featured a pretty boss bass solo from Moose, too. Great version of this oldie-but-goodie. Another nice surprise was up next in Cheese’s “Texas” for us all, Billy Strings nailing the intro line on mandolin and Nershi taking up his usual vocals. Every voice in the hall must’ve been singing along to this one. And it sounded so polished, too! Really happy to get this song. And the dobro solo?? Just having dobro on this one…chills! Absolute chills. They went right out of a lengthy ending jam in “Texas” and directly into “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” for some more of that hard drivin’, fast pickin’ goodness we’d all come to bask in, Bluegrass Generals style. Superb musicianship showcased all around in this one, each General a true master on his chosen instrument. Mandolin player and friend of the band, Jordan Ramsey, joined the good times on stage for a series of songs beginning with “My Rose of Old Kentucky” with Billy Strings on vocals. Pitch-perfect old fashioned bluegrass goodness — plain and simple. Panda and Hall threw down a lovely duet for “The Little Girl and The Dreadful Snake” which was followed by the energetic and familiar “Hold What’cha Got”. An incredible mandolin duet-heavy tune followed during a breakdown peppered with lots of sweet banjo shenanigannery from Chris Pandolfi. Not to mention the melodious madness that issued forth from Hall’s dobro. “Mandos gone wild!!”, yelled Bill Nershi. And he wasn’t wrong! Damn, can Billy play! Damn, can Jordan play! Damn! A favorite of the night to be sure. Andy Hall was back up to the mic for “Darling Corey” which featured some more mando magic from Jordan before he took his leave. What a great addition to augment the Generals — many thanks to Mr. Ramsey for the amazing music! The riveting “Red Fox” followed with fast pickin’ for one and all and then we were all “Working on a Building” together, taking a walk down that old school bluegrass lane hand-in-hand. Simply splendid vocal harmonies in this one, too. Just loved that aspect of the evening. More String Cheese was in store next for us with “Far From Home” directly into “Wheel Hoss”. Nershi had a lot of fun with this solo, hamming it up in fine fashion for us as well all danced along. Nice and gritty and just how you’d want it to be. Sadly, due to nasty weather, we had to leave a tad early during “Wheel Hoss” and miss the last two songs: “Sitting on Top of the World” and “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad”. However, there is no doubt in my mind that the Generals killed those two songs just as readily as they did the entire rest of the evening. I am sure that everyone who stayed left feeling just that much more gratified than we did already, heads and hearts filled with so much incredible music.
To the Denver Bluegrass Generals — I salute you!! Gentlemen, that truly was one stellar showing of musical prowess and precision. Excellent song selection and excellently played, all night through. Many thanks to you all for your contributions to the evening and for helping to make it so very successful at every turn. Looking forward to your next joint exercise, my good sirs!