BERLINE, CRARY, HICKMAN AND SPURGIN; in concert at the University of Utah Museum of Fine Arts Auditorium; March 31; one show only.
Friday night's concert at the University of Utah drew a full house, and the members of the crowd knew what they had come out on a rainy, windy evening to hear - bluegrass and traditional instrumental music at its best.They went away happy. It's not often that Utah audiences have the chance to hear a bluegrass group as well-known as Berline, Crary, Hickman and Spurgin, and in Friday's concert, sponsored by the Intermountain Acoustic Music Association, the quartet delivered on their promise.
As Berline, Crary and Hickman, the group has been famed for years for their virtuoso instrumental renderings of traditional tunes.
Bass player Steve Spurgin is a recent addition to the group. Also a singer and song writer, Spurgin's talents brought a new dimension to the show with ballads like "Moonlight Motor Inn," about a family business falling prey to progress; "They Don't Play George Jones on MTV," an ode to all the broken-down country musicians who never quite made it big; and "Kodak 1955," a nostalgic reflection on the families that used to be.
Spurgin has written some national country music hits, and some of the songs we heard Friday night hold promise to show up on the hit lists as well.
But it was instrumental fireworks that most of the audience had plainly come to see. And they weren't disappointed.
Byron Berline is probably the best-known traditional fiddler around today. And he may be one of the most-recorded violinists in any genre, having done session work with groups ranging from Bill Monroe to the Rolling Stones.
With an embellished and extended version of the old fiddle chestnut "Forked Deer," and a medley of old-timers "Billy in the Lowground," "Katy Hill" and "Cripple Creek," he showed he hasn't lost his talent for making traditional tunes new, fresh and exciting.
Dan Crary is recognized as one of the founders of the flat-picking style of guitar playing. And Friday he showed the U. audience how it's done, delivering dazzling guitar breaks and then picking up a 12-string guitar for an intricate rendition of "Lady's Fancy."
John Hickman is equally famous as a master of the five-string banjo, the instrument without which bluegrass wouldn't be bluegrass. A highlight of the show came when he and Berline teamed up for a banjo-fiddle duet of "Liberty," again making America's oldest music come alive.
Hickman also gave a compare-and-contrast rendition reproducing the styles of bluegrass greats like Ralph Stanley, Earl Scruggs and Don Reno in a "banjo hall of fame." And an encore of "Sally Goodin" showcased all three instrumentalists in driving bluegrass at its finest.
Powder Ridge, a local group, opened the show and - despite being plagued by sound system gremlins as the system got shaken down for the big guns - showed that Utah has some fine bluegrass musicians of its own.
Mike Iverson's mellow vocals and precision mandolin playing, Matt Flinner's contest-winning banjo licks, Ryan Shupe's fiddling, Don Baker's guitar and Bob Hardy's bass and vocals blended in a set that ranged from bluegrass to original compositions and a semi-rock number (done bluegrass style, of course).
The Western swing tune "Wahoo" had audience members grinning and tapping their toes, and Iverson and Hardy's soulful rendition of ballad about a mountain man was another favorite.