:: Sweet Sunny South :: Rialto Theater :: November 17 ::
By Kathy Foster-Patton
The acoustic, old-time bluegrass band Sweet Sunny South will venture across the mountain passes from their home in Paonia to this side of the state in November. The group has had yet another great year, with a critically acclaimed CD release in June and now a showcase performance at the International Bluegrass Music Association convention in Nashville, under their belts.
Bill Powers, banjo and mandolin player for the band, explained that it was a great honor to be chosen for the very prestigious spot at the IBMAs and that the band had to do some deep breathing to get through it. “We were pretty nervous,” said Powers in a recent interview with The Marquee. “I talked with a couple of people who gave us advice to set our minds at ease: just smile and play. After that, we felt really relaxed. Another thing that really set us at ease was we played right after Jerry Douglas at the keynote address. It was just weird as hell to be waiting in the wings and say ‘hi’ to Jerry Douglas as he walked off the stage. We played a nice mellow set; there were a lot of people there due to the keynote address. It was nice seeing some familiar faces from the Colorado contingent, too.”
Getting selected to play as a showcase band was no slamdunk for the band, despite its growth since forming in 2002. “It’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 to 400 applications that get sent in to try to grab a showcase slot,” Powers said. “We were one of the 13 that were chosen. Altogether, we played about four showcases and our best one was the California Bluegrass Association showcase that we did, with the most people there and there were promoters there looking for bands to play at their festivals next summer. We played fine and got good feedback from them. It’s so hard, you’re doing business stuff all day and you’re also trying to save your voice. Overall, it went really well. Getting invited was the biggest thing of all.”
In Sweet Sunny South, Powers is joined by Cory Obert, who saws on the old-time fiddle and sings high tenor. Rob Miller plays guitar and also sings lead and harmony, while bassist Shelley Gray also sings.
Powers and Miller write most of the songs for the group, which cites the influences of a range of musical performers including the traditional Stanley Brothers and Carter Family, as well as modern musicians such as The Freighthoppers and The Reeltime Travelers. But despite some of their more contemporary influences, Sweet Sunny South still eases in and out around a single microphone during their performances, in the style reminiscent of the old-time musicians that they admire.
With the band’s explosion in the bluegrass and festival scene, the members of Sweet Sunny South have found themselves struggling to keep it all together when it comes to family life, but they still say that the gift of being able to perform makes it worth it. “We were gone a lot this summer, away from the kids, who were cared for by my sister or a babysitter. It was a struggle that way — you really can’t do this sort of thing with kids,” said Powers. “It’s hard and there’s times when you get all this great stuff happening and you want to leave — you want to jump and you can’t. It makes us focus a little more on the things we can do and maybe approach the music in a little more of a mature way — by mature, I don’t mean other bands are immature, but we’re older and we have this life experience to approach things a little more realistically.”
Those life experiences, as well as the band’s straddling of both old and new styles, according to Powers, is one of the things that’s helping the band get noticed. “Our music stands out as a little bit of a different approach to bluegrass and old-time music. We have kind of one foot in old time and one foot in bluegrass. So we have this mix and we write a lot. We take these two influences that we have and kind of incorporate them. We just kind of do it however we feel it and whatever comes out of us. A lot of people say that it reminds them of the precursor to bluegrass music, which was just before there was really a name for it, where there were all kinds of instruments involved and it has a ’30s and ’40s kind of roadhouse music feel,” said Powers.
The band placed in the prestigious RockyGrass band contests in 2003 and 2004 and their initial CD release, Bell Creek Dance Club, was featured on “CPR Colorado Matters.” They released a subsequent recording, Wild-n-Swingin’, in 2005 and this summer Sweet Sunny South put out a live CD titled Live From The Radio Room.
Their upcoming show will feature a new project by former members of Hit and Run Bluegrass and a member of Open Road.
:: Sweet Sunny South ::
:: Rialto Theater :: November 17 ::
Spectate if you Gravitate:
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