Green Mountain Grass & Two High String Band :: 03.08.08 :: Ruta Maya :: Austin, TX
After some initial difficulty finding Ruta Maya, the beer and caffeine-soaked buzz once inside the spacious, funky venue went down easy. I settled comfortably into a night with two of Austin’s finest bluegrass offerings. Two High String Band took the stage first while the crowd was still shuffling around, trying to find seats in the smattering of folding chairs and tiled tables scattered around a floor that was just begging to be danced on. The band has played with Yonder Mountain String Band and Tony Trischka among others, and mandolinist Billy Bright has recorded and toured with Tony Rice and Peter Rowan. So, it’s a slight head-scratcher as to why they are playing on such a small scale in their hometown. Two High’s three core members – Bright, flatpicking guitarist Geoff Union and fingerpicking guitarist Brian Smith – have added Mark Rubin (bass – also from legendary bluegrass punk pioneers Bad Livers), Alan Munde (banjo) and Erik Hokkanen (fiddle) to their lineup. Hokkanen was a standout, wailing on the fiddle with a half-mad grin, enraptured and possessed with the instrument.
Green Mountain Grass took that heat and set Ruta Maya aflame. Their roots stretch back several years to the Champaign-Urbana, Illinois bluegrass scene, but they’ve planted themselves firmly in Austin. This quartet plays with fire in the belly enthusiasm and foot stomping energy that grabs you from the first notes. These four – Jess Dalton (bass), Dave Wilmoth (mandolin), Trevor Smith (banjo, guitar) and Adam “Pickles” Moss (fiddle) – have an effortless musical cohesion on stage, injecting their slightly quirky and completely contagious spirit into their rich harmonies and showcasing solos. GMG fall on the funkier improvisational end of the spectrum, traveling between searing fast instrumentals like Wilmoth’s “Absinthe Before Breakfast” and the deep guitar and bass groove found in “Turkey Trot” with unexpected twists and turns in between.
As GMG played on past their setlist, taking requests from the dance floor, Ruta Maya broke down into barely controlled, joyous chaos. Most of the seated were now standing, filling the dance floor with a healthy mix of twirling and foot stomping. A blur of overalls and tie-dye ran by me and dropped his beer on the ground, the bottle shattering and sending foam flying. Another local musician, Sick (THAT Damned Band, Sick’s Pack), threw his fiddle into the mix at one point, appearing like a blue flame in a blazer and disappearing just as quickly. The first notes of fan fave “84 Blues” were met with cheers and segued into an energetic “How Mountain Girls Can Love” that ended the set with enough buzzing energy to make us all forget we had lost an hour thanks to daylight savings time and the 2:00 a.m. curfew was creeping upon us. It was indeed alive and kickin’ in that thar Hill Country, deep in the heart of Texas. You just had to find the right road to take you there.
JamBase | Austin
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