Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 4 Reviews

Dry Branch Fire Squad
Saturday, Oct. 2, 5:20 p.m.
Star Stage
Reviewed by Rachel Turner

Saturday's Star Stage lineup ended with a delightfully rollicking performance by the Dry Branch Fire Squad. And they were introduced by none other than the man himself - festival organizer Warren Hellman.

Opening their set with an a cappella gospel number, the Fire Squad captivated the audience with strong and haunting harmonies. Not to be outdone by the seriousness of the song, however, frontman Ron Thomason spent the next 10 minutes drawing laughs from the crowd with hillbilly anecdotes. He told stories of big city mishaps, openly displayed his disdain for modern country music, and picked on his fellow bandmates almost as much as he picked on his mandolin. It was all joking around...until the music started again. With sweet and lonesome vocals woven through impeccable string pickin', the Dry Branch Fire Squad was all business. But after the music stopped, and the applause started, Thomason thanked the audience for their sympathy and launched into more silly yarns.

In regard to their music, the show-stopping numbers were those that showcased the band's mighty harmonies. A powerful version of "There is Power in the Blood" silenced the crowd. Martha Stanley joined the group onstage for a charming rendition of George Jones's "We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds." Another high point of the set was when Thomason sang a love ballad to his horse. After spending a considerable amount of time explaining to the audience about "Equonics" and "Equine-Americans," he launched into a slow melody dedicated to his "best friend, who just happens to be of a different species."

Amid all the wisecracks, the band's true talent shone. The bass was perfect. The mandolin and banjo pickin' were tight and solid. The Dry Branch Fire Squad looked the part, acted the part, and certainly sounded the part of a first-rate quintessential bluegrass band.

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