Monday, November 2, 2009
On the Road with Darin & Brooke Aldridge
A week or so ago, we had the pleasure of spending five days with Darin and Brooke Aldridge learning about them and following the lives of a hard working and rising young bluegrass band. People who read this blog are aware that we have a soft spot in our hearts for Darin and Brooke as well as a pretty well-honed understanding of their quality and the work it has already taken to bring them to where they are. What follows, in words and pictures, is an account of those delightful days they shared with us.
Darin and Brooke's Home
On Wednesday we met Brooke at the cozy and neat ranch style home they rent in Cherryville, NC, where Darin has lived most of his life. She was just home from her job as a pre-school teacher. Darin had spent the day teaching at the studio he keeps at his family's home near Cherryville. He teaches three or four days a week at home and at the Gaston County School of the Arts and has many mandolin, guitar, and banjo students. Darin's studio shows the cluttered signs of his former bachelor existence, a life he left when he married Brooke nearly a year ago, but he continues to teach there.
In Darin's Studio
Darin, Brooke, and Irene Pickin'
When Darin came home from teaching we went out for pizza and steak sandwiches at a nearby restaurant and did some planning for the upcoming long weekend. As with many musicians, it is not unusual for Darin and Brooke to work two or three different venues over a weekend bluegrass weekend, which usually extends from Thursday until Sunday. On this weekend they would perform five times at four different venues with their band, and Darin would also sit in with three other bands. Furthermore, Darin drove the entire circuit, carted his sound equipment to three different places and set it up by himself at one. By any standard, that's a grueling schedule.
On Thursday evening The Darin & Brooke Aldridge Quintet were the featured band in the First National Bank venue at Art of Sound, an annual eclectic music festival held in Shelby, NC, near Cherryville. They played a full set and stayed for several encores, as they were the last group and there was terrific enthusiasm for their performance. Darin has put together a first rate band to support his and Brooke's singing. Eddie Biggerstaff, on bass as well as tenor and bass vocals, is a widely experienced bassman who played with Blueridge for several years before that great group disbanded. His heartfelt singing on songs like "Workin' on a Building" moves audiences while giving Brooke a few minutes to rest her voice. His work singing bass on acapella quartets is just wonderful. Chris Bryant on banjo and baritone vocals has Earl Scruggs' three qualities (tone, taste, and tempo) firmly in hand. His often understated banjo play always supports the song. Perry Woodie on resonator guitar and harmony vocals is also always steady and tasteful. His corny jokes, delivered deadpan, always elicit a chuckle without distracting from the main event. The band always seems to be at the complete service of the songs they sing and the faith they represent.
The Darin & Brooke Justice Quintet
Brooke Justice Aldridge
Darin Sits In with Opening Band - In Cahoots
Because playing bluegrass is a nearly full-time second job for busy bands, families can often best see each other by having family members attend events. Besides, the spouses and kids often like the music.
Sandy Bryant with son Caleb and Niece
Dr. Bobby Cuts the Ribbon
And Sits in with Darin and Brooke
Darin and Brooke
By the end of the afternoon a close observer might have noticed that Brooke was showing the effects of a late evening performance the night before, a full days work with a classroom full of little kids, and a performance, but, like a trooper, her weariness never showed in her on stage personality or her singing although she said her voice was tired. She was very much in need of sleep with two days still to go in the weekend.
Saturday at Art of Sound in Shelby is the big day. A third stage is added on the town square, there's a family (and animal) costume parade, and the annual Livermush Expo takes place. Darin and Brooke were scheduled to perform in the Arts Center right after Balsam Range, from nearby Asheville, another first rate emerging national band. Both bands had appeared at the International Bluegrass Music Association's (IBMA) World of Bluegrass convention in Nashville earlier in the month. The Darin and Brooke Aldridge Quintet had had an official showcase on Monday evening during the opening banquet after the keynote address. This showcase gave them an audience of nearly 1000 bluegrass professionals - promoters, radio broadcasters, publicists, bluegrass associations, and more - and they had performed well, creating significant buzz. Their Saturday performance at Art of Sound was scheduled for 2:15, but bands are usually contractually obligated to arrive at least an hour before they perform. Chris Bryant drove the two hours back from his home in far northern Wilkes County, NC while Perry Woodie returned from his home in the Smokies. His girl friend Beth came over to see him perform, too. Remember, bluegrass is hard on couples and families.
The Arts Center
The Darin and Brooke Aldridge Quintet
Perry's Friend Beth
After their successful show, Darin and Brooke along with some of the rest of us, wandered across the square, past the Confederate soldier statue guarding it, to the First National Bank to see the Harris Brothers. This outstanding duo from nearby Lenoir, NC specializes in blues and jazz, and they have an additional huge repertoire extending to all kinds of music. They are in great demand in clubs and private homes in the region. Sadly, they have not generated a national base. Nevertheless, we had heard of them and were eager to hear them perform. We were not disappointed, and Darin's sitting in with them for their entire set added a rich punctuation to their already polished performance.
The Harris Brothers with Darin Aldridge
Darin Pickin' Jazz
The Magic Hands
Darin and Brooke
While Darin and Brooke's repertoire has broadened to include secular bluegrass and country music, they maintain a deep commitment to their music ministry. Their new CD, which will probably be released by Cross Roads Records in February, was produced by Nashville veteran Jerry Salley. It contains a widened range of music, including several new songs written for them and one written by Darin. Sunday, for the Aldridges, usually involves them in singing gospel music at festivals or churches, where they are in great demand. It's a rare Sunday when they don't have one, or even two performances in churches across a wide swath of the south. We arrived at their house at 8:00 AM to ride with them to concerts during regular Sunday services at a nearby Methodist Church and then an evening performance at Brooke's home church in Newland, NC, up a windy country road near the Blue Ridge Parkway. We pulled into their driveway just as Darin was returning with breakfast in a bag and a car full of his audio equipment.
Morning at the Aldridge's
View of the Smokies from Behind the Church
Minister Helps with Band Setup
Darin must cart a professional speaker system in the back of his SUV to each church performance. Band members work as a smoothly oiled team setting the system up and preparing for each performance.
Chicken Supper Served by the Church
Brooke Greets a Fan
After the enjoyable service and supper at Marvin Methodist, we headed toward the mountains, driving through Lenoir and Ashville as the trees became increasingly colorful. Despite the fact that they had been busy performing for four days, Darin and Brooke wanted us to see The Blue Ridge Parkway in all its autumn beauty. We drove up onto the Parkway, crowded with leaf peepers (as we call them in New England) with each pulloff full. The air was as clear as it ever gets up here; the Smokies have earned their name. The spectacular views of the mountains and the engineering of the aqueduct took our breath away as we traveled along for a couple of hours.
Brooke Still Needs Some Rest
Second Homes Scar the Great Smokey Landscape
On the Blue Ridge Parkway
Henson Creek Baptist Church
We arrived at Brooke's home in the Spear Community in Avery County in time for a break and a rest. Brooke's parents were out, so we had the neat, small home to ourselves for a few hours to just kick back. A creek runs along the front of the house; probably the same one that rushes past the Church, just up the road, where Brooke grew up and was baptized in one cold January morning. After a snack and a cup of coffee, we headed up the road to set up the sound and prepare for the evening. Perry would not be with us, but Dr. Bobby would be ably substituting on mandolin for the evening.
The Church Choir Singing in the Old Shaped Note Style
Brooke's Mom Kathy Sings with the Band
Pastor Junior Carver
A Simple and Tasty Late Supper
The sense of the Spirit's presence throughout the evening was absolute. The fervor or the singing and the warmth and spirit of the congregation were palpable. Family and friends joined to celebrate their faith and the growing prominence of a young woman who had only recently left their fold and the husband she had chosen. It was an evening filled with all one could wish. After breaking down the sound system and packing, Darin began the long drive back to Cherryville. Along the way, he was constantly in touch with those members of the band who had traveled to be at Henson Creek, making sure they were awake and headed in the right direction. Brooke slept in the back while I dozed in front. Irene kept up her chatter, as much to help Darin stay awake as for any other purpose. Around 11:30, we pulled into their driveway. Irene and I got into the truck and drove the 35 miles back to our campground to collapse into our bed. Monday was a day of recuperation for us, but Brooke was at school with her class and Darin had a day full of students to teach. Such is the life of working bluegrass musicians. And they Love it!