The David Grisman Bluegrass Experience. At the Lobero Theatre, Thursday, August 10.
Reviewed by Derek Svennungsen
If you’re reading this, then you know what “Dawg” music is, and that David Grisman (a perfect last name for this varmint) is the inventor and main force behind the ragged style of bluegrass mixed with blues mixed with turpentine mixed with folk. A bear of a man with wild hair and bushy beard, Grisman plays this little mandolin that, framed by his massive torso, looks like some souvenir toy. He manhandles the mandolin, so it makes no sense whatsoever that such sweet, tangy sounds emanate from his abused instrument. Watching Grisman play is like watching an ogre strangle a cat, but instead of howls of anguish, you hear melodies of angels. And that is Dawg music.
On this particular evening, Grisman brought with him four other ace musicians, together billed as the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience (DGBX). As their name implies, the songs tended to lean more to the bluegrass side of the mountain than usual, and the audience got a firsthand lesson in bluegrass history, as the band covered Charlie Poole, the McCoury Band, Flatt & Scruggs, and so on.
While a good chunk of the hirsute crowd probably wanted more of the Dawg sound, there was no way to be disappointed. Bluegrass can assume another musical stratum altogether; played well, it makes you want simultaneously to dance, cry, and roam the land. And the band — banjo, guitar, fiddle, and acoustic bass — loved every second of it.
Banjoist Keith Little projected this enormous smile that gave him the appearance of being the happiest guy in the history of the world. Grisman, like a bobble-head toy Santa Claus (in a muted Hawaiian shirt, that is), acted as if he too was experiencing acoustic bliss for the very first time. And perhaps even more enthusiastic was fiddler Chad Manning, a Huck Finn of a boy/man, slashing his bow and popping bowstrings and raising clouds of dust with every grin-filled solo.
This kind of energy, in a theater like the lovely Lobero, is absolutely contagious. Song after song was met with wild applause, barks, and some good-natured heckling from some guy in the front row who either knew Grisman, or was nursing a flask of corn liquor. Whatever the case, the personalities of both the band and the crowd coalesced on this full-moon night.