Monday, January 10, 2011

Hot Mustard at Fritz Fries, Keene, NH - Bluegrass Roots of Today

Hot Mustard

While we often think of bluegrass music as a niche music associated with the Appalachian chain and Scotts/Irish traditions in America, it quietly, yet persistently, pervades much of our culture.  Listen to the background music in many advertisements; watch classic films like Bonnie & Clyde; see if there's a place near you where there's a bluegrass jam; visit your local music store to see whether they sell acoustic instruments and help promote bluegrass events near you.  This blog, largely devoted to bluegrass, is read in every state of the union and in over 140 countries, with regular and careful readers in all of Europe, Australia, and Japan.  Bluegrass is everywhere...if you look for it.  

While much of this blog focuses on top rank performers at relatively large events (and reader response suggests that's what they really want to see and hear about), the heart and soul of bluegrass lies in local jams, local and regional bands, and a grass roots support unlike any other in music.  Many, although certainly not all, bluegrass fans are also people who make bluegrass music.  They form bands, and many begin performing, donating their efforts at senior residences, weddings, church services, street fairs, elementary school music programs, and on and on.  Some of these groups never work for pay or work for tips alone.  Others begin to perform for pay at small venues, little festivals, bars and clubs, everywhere.  They record a CD and do their best to get their music heard.  And bluegrass music spreads to new audiences wherever people hear it, because it appeals to something elemental and clean and good in us.

The members of Hot Mustard come out of this tradition.  Bruce Stockwell has been a music professional for his entire life.  While his first and enduring love has always been bluegrass music, he has often supported himself, performing along with his brothers and others, by playing rock guitar or whatever people wanted to hear.  He recorded a still well-regarded, among knowledgeable musicians and fans, bluegrass album back in the seventies.  He won the prestigious Merlefest banjo contest in 2005, raising his visibility in the banjo world. For the past several years he has been serving on the faculty of Banjo Camp North, as well as other banjo events.  Bruce is recognized as a banjo player's banjo player by some of the leading pickers in the genre. Bruce is an English graduate of Yale University.  He lives and teaches in E. Putney, VT.

Bruce Stockwell

Bill Jubett, a banjo player and multi-instrumentalist from Ringe, NH came to Bruce for banjo lessons several years ago.  According to Kelly Stockwell, they met Bill and his partner April Hobart back in 2006.  "Bill came over for lessons, and then he and Bruce applied for the NH Arts grant which they won which lasted [during] 2008-2009." Bill teaches banjo and fiddle in Peterborough, VT while, as Kelly says, "filling in the holes" doing odd jobs.  His singing has a rough-edged high lonesome sound completely consistent with traditional bluegrass. 

Bill Jubett

April Hobart has long-standing bluegrass credentials. Her father played in bluegrass bands as she was growing up, and her some of her earliest memories involve attending bluegrass festivals with her family and singing harmony with her Dad.  She has a strong bluegrass voice and an engaging on-stage personality.  Her lead singing is excellent, as is her harmony work.  She plays strong rhythm guitar and is working on guitar breaks to add to the mix.  April works for the Chandra X-ray Observatory at Harvard as an illustrator/animator.  Here's one of her productions.  

April Hobart
 Bill & April

Kelly Stockwell, a physics graduate of Marlboro College works for a manufacturer of optical equipment making filters for laser applications.  She came to Bruce as a banjo student on the recommendation of a local luthier and music shop owner and stayed to marry him as well as to bring her energy and enthusiasm to building his career.  Kelly has moved to the bass from her initial efforts at the banjo and has become a fine bass player.  Her playing features complex bass licks not usually associated with traditional bluegrass bands and complementing her extremely solid bass beat. People often comment on the relationship between musical ability and math/physics.  Kelly's rapid development as a bluegrass picker attests to this tendency.

Kelly Stockwell

Hot Mustard Plays "In the Pines"


While maintaining fidelity to classic performances, Hot Mustard establishes its individuality through the frequent use of a double banjo format and Bruce Stockwell's unique phrasings and chord selections, often choosing to find a funky blues sound in places where others would find themselves  directly mimicking on the traditional sound.  Hot Mustard's sound is made particularly distinctive through their use of a double banjo format on many songs.  Their performances are characterized by creating new approaches to old and familiar bluegrass songs while never straying so far away from their antecedents as to become separated or alienated from the roots of the music.  Hot Mustard has a very pleasant stage personality created by having two couples who like each other working together comfortably from the stage.  They have been working hard to broaden their outreach and will be appearing at local and regional locations as well as several New England bluegrass festivals this summer which have national impact.  They will be appearing at Joe Val in Framingham, MA next month as well as Strawberry Park, Jenny Brook, Mineral Springs, Pemi Valley, and North Branch bluegrass festivals during the summer.  Other dates can be found on their web site including upcoming dates in Chester, VT, New Boston, NH, and Hartford, CT.  This is a band on the move and deserves watching.

Fritz Fries
Fritz Fries, located at 7 Main Street in Keene, NH, offers a tasty combination of hand cut french fries (its specialty) served up with a variety of tasty and pungent dipping sauces, to accompany a range of made to order sandwiches and tasty salads.  As much as possible, owner Jessica Graveline seeks to use locally grown produce in season to complement the hand cut potatoes used for the fries.  Fritz fries features live music every Friday with a range of music including indie rock, folk, jazz, and, of course, bluegrass.

Hot Mustard Performs "Hold Whatcha Got"