Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 4 Reviews

Carolina Special
Saturday, Oct. 2, 11:30 a.m.
Star Stage
Reviewed by Sarah Bardeen

Led by native Carolinian John Murphy, this classy traditional bluegrass outfit may be based in the Bay Area but they're obsessed with authentic mountain playing. Murphy sings and plays guitar. He's backed by mandolin player Dave Earl, George Goodell on banjo, Doug Holloway on fiddle and Suzanne Suwanda on bass. Suzanne is the newest addition to the band, and though she holds a PhD in ethnomusicology, Murphy quoted a famous exchange to explain her skill: "Do you read music?" "Not enough to hurt my playing."

The band was nattily dressed in suits and hats and gathered around a single microphone in true old-time style. They threw down powerful four-part harmonies for a late morning crowd that was way too small for such a talented group. They gave the Flatt & Scruggs classic "Get In Line, Brother" their all, and effortlessly hit that requisite sharp-voiced, high lonesome sound. They slowed it down for the evocative original "Carolina Sunset" and then tore into Ralph Stanley's "Wild Bill Jones."

The highlight of the set was "Give Me the Flowers While I'm Livin'," simply because the lyrics are so great and the delivery was so heartfelt. The song argues that it's better to be nice to people while they're still living, rather than saving up all the kindness until after they're dead. "Please don't wait till I'm ready to be buried / and then slip some lilies in my hand." The group closed this smoking morning. set with an overheated take on the Flatt/Scruggs song "I'll Go Stepping Too." The crowd was sorry to see them go.

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