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
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.