Bluegrass is all over the place in Montreal. From the Sunday night laid-back bluegrass open-mic of sorts at Barfly to more formal shows, it’s everywhere. And I couldn’t be happier about this.
Taking another cue from that amazing mailing list I’ve joined, a few of us headed out to see the group Notre Dame de Grass play at Casa del Popolo. The opener, White Lighter, was cute though relatively inexperienced, the lead singer of which we had seen heading up all-star folk group Lake of Stew. He’s definitely a pro, though this little quartet that he started in the wake of Lake need some fine-tuning. This was their third show as a group, and it showed, but they were upbeat about it and definitely had some tunes worth hearing. Looking forward to seeing them again once they’ve got a few more shows under their belt.
Notre Dame de Grass was everything you would expect from a bluegrass group. Plus unparalleled talent. The five of them, as you can tell in this video of a different show, each excel on their instrument. Fiddle, mandolin, stand-up bass, guitar, and banjo completely unplugged – can’t go wrong with that combination. Rather than deal with amps and such, they were “just strings and wood” surrounding a couple of microphones. I really loved this unplugged feel. And watching the three singers lean in to the old fashioned mic for tight and well-balanced harmonies felt very old fashioned in the best possible way.
A highlight of the show for me was the pair of songs they played to highlight the roots of bluegrass, one of which was this mind-bogglingly fast fiddle and banjo instrumental. These guys are pros to the point where you couldn’t follow their fingers even if you tried. And I was trying. After that amazing number, the lead singer, complete with Yankees cap, took the microphone sans guitar and sang an incredibly powerful cowboy-equivalent of a sea shanty. Pure emotion in song-form. Just incredible. Whenever a singer can belt it out like that without any accompaniment, I get ridiculously jealous. Such amazing confidence. These were great little pauses between the full group numbers
As we tend to do after such a monumental show, Vic and I came home with a CD and have been wearing it out ever since.