Bluegrass — it’s a sound of the summer, right? It’s a celebration that seems, at present, rather remote. We can’t exactly turn the temps to summer status this weekend, but there are enough indoor bluegrass shows heading our way over the next few evenings — five performances in four cities, to be exact — to make you think it might be mid-June instead of two weeks before Christmas.
Here is a look at all the string sounds abounding.
The Seldom Scene
Opening: Jean Dowell featuring Mike Oberst. 8 p.m. Dec. 9 at the 20th Century Theater, 3021 Madison Road, Cincinnati. $25, $30. 513-731-8000. The20thcenturytheatre.com.
Few bands define bluegrass in the Bluegrass more than the scholarly Seldom Scene, a mainstay progressive string ensemble since 1971 and a fixture of Lexington’s own Festival of the Bluegrass. On Friday night, the quintet — Dudley Connell, Lou Reid, Fred Travers, Ronnie Simpkins and Rickie Simpkins — plays a rare regional show outside of the summer season at suburban Cincinnati’s 20th Century Theatre.
The band’s most recent album, 2014’s “Long Time … Seldom Scene” revisits works from throughout its career.
Similarly familiar to local audiences through appearances at the Festival of the Bluegrass (although not nearly as many as the Seldom Scene), The Boxcars bring a blend of traditional and gospel-flavored bluegrass to its more regular regional concert home, Meadowgreen Park Music Hall in Clay City, on Saturday.
The band boasts a number of major league pickers, including Alison Krauss and Union Station alum (and two time International Bluegrass Music Association mandolinist of the year) Adam Steffey along with multi-instrumentalist Ron Stewart and bassist Harold Nixon (known regionally for their years with JD Crowe and the New South).
The Gibson Brothers
Named entertainers of the year at the 2012 and 2013 IBMA awards, Eric and Leigh Gibson and the band that bears their name have been a potent bluegrass enterprise for more than two decades. Anyone who caught Leigh Gibson tearing through the Bill Monroe staple “Big Mon” at the 2014 Festival of the Bluegrass knows what a fearsome instrumental unit the Gibson Brothers can be. But the same performance revealed the high mountain tenor of Eric Gibson as a vocal successor to the singing of Del McCoury. The band’s ace in the hole remains fiddler Clayton Campbell, who was playing and singing at the Kentucky Opry at age 7.
Michael Oberst will be doing double duty this weekend. After opening Friday night’s Seldom Scene concert in Cincinnati, the banjo-, fiddle-, guitar- and kazoo-playing vocalist, along with the rest of the Cincy-based string trio The Tillers, head to Lexington for a Saturday night set at Willie’s Locally Known.
The Tillers aren’t exactly a bluegrass troupe as its music weaves together Woody Guthrie-era folk, pre-bluegrass country, Appalachian inspirations and even a touch of jazz, which explains why it has shared concert bills with acts as disparate as Jerry Douglas and the Legendary Shack Shakers. But the band’s rustic string sound nicely compliments the weekend’s bluegrass blitz.
Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper, Muriel Anderson
The weekend’s bluegrass express carries over into Monday, when multiple IBMA fiddler of the year Michael Cleveland and his band Flamekeeper perform at the last taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour for 2016.
Cleveland has been a regular in the region since his days with Rhonda Vincent and the Rage. He is also a veteran of several duet concerts at the Southland Jamboree with Jeff Guernsey. Ironically, one of Cleveland’s finest Lexington showings with Flamekeeper fell on the same 2014 bill at the Festival of the Bluegrass that featured the Gibson Brothers. There, Cleveland transformed “Shenandoah” into a serenade of slo-mo swing.