Concert Review - Bluegrass Etc. "One of the Hottest Musical Trios in the World!"

Reviewed by: W.J. HallockBill Hallock 0448 crop

So ... my wife, Mary Ann, and our grandson, Mason, came home from the Bayfield, Colorado 4th of July parade and she says to me: “Do you know a band called Bluegrass Etc.?” She had my attention immediately and I said: “Why?”

She proceeds to tell me that they are playing at the Blue Spruce RV Park and Cabins at Vallecito Lake  (Colorado) at 7:00 PM on July 5th, and the concert is free. I’m jumping up and down like a fool and I tell her Bluegrass Etc. is ONLY one of the hottest musical trios in the world! I go into detail of who they are, what bands they have played in, what songs they have written and recorded and their extensive history in the world of bluegrass and country music. She looks at me and calmly says: “Does that mean we’re going to their concert?”

At 4:30 sharp today, July 5th, we were on our way from Bayfield up to Vallecito, only twenty miles away. I had FaceBooked Bluegrass Etc. bass player Steve Spurgin, for confirmation that they were going to be there and to get directions. He gave me a pretty good idea of where we were headed and I was excited as all get out! How often does a surprise like this come along and make a great holiday even better? If Mary Ann hadn’t seen a little 8 X 10 poster about the concert in a shop window, we’d have missed it for sure.

PRESCRIPTION BLUEGRASS IMAGE - BLUEGRASS ETC.  PHOTO BY W.J. HALLOCKMy first knowledge of guitarist and mandolin player John Moore and Steve Spurgin was back when they were members of the seminal country band “California.” Fiddle legend Byron Berline, banjo player John Hickman and guitarist Dan Crary had also been members of the band that was named Instrumental Group of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) in 1993,’94 and ’95. I had the pleasure of meeting Byron Berline and John Hickman while I was living in Oklahoma. Just two weeks ago, before this show at the Blue Spruce, there had been a “California” reunion in Susanville, California. They were very influential in my own musical excursions, so to see and meet them meant a lot to me personally.

The drive to Vallecito is always spectacular, the weather was perfect, it was cloudy with a chance of rain and we had brought our coats. The Blue Spruce is all the way up past the north end of the lake and is a beautiful, serene, well kept and friendly place. The first person we met as we started looking for the stage was the owner himself, Mr. Tom Burns. Under a large pavilion there were chairs set up, the sound system was waiting for the band and Tom gave us a brief history of his domain. He is very proud of The Blue Spruce, and he should be, as this is not your typical RV park! His attention to detail makes it obvious he’s here to please his customers in every way possible. It is also nestled in the very center of one of the most beautiful places on God’s green Earth!

Steve Spurgin, and his wife, Vickie, are the first to arrive, and two more friendlier people you won’t find. No fancy roadies here, so Steve jumps in to start the setup of his gear and the P A. Vickie gets the CD table organized and within minutes, Dennis Caplinger, banjo player extraordinaire, arrives and the setup continues.

I had brought a list of questions to ask, and within 15 minutes most of them were answered. It was at that point that guitarist John Moore pulled in and the fun shifted into high gear. He had driven in from his home in Dove Creek, Colorado, just a two hour drive away. Bluegrass Etc. had played the night before for the 4th of July festivities in Dove Creek to a crowd of about 2,000 people, and tonight’s concert would be a lot more intimate. Less than 200 people were there, but, I think if only five people had come they would have put on the same energetic and fun performance. They are consummate professionals, and that was evident from the moment they kicked off the first song.

Steve Spurgin has one of those voices that just gets better with time, and he proved it with the songs he sang over the evening. At one point in his career he had been a staff writer for Gene Watson, and also for Reba McEntire. Mr. Watson recorded his songs “Speak Softly You’re Talkin’ To My Heart” and “Carmen.” Steve’s version of “Carmen” was one of the night’s highlights. He nailed it vocally, and Dennis Caplinger’s Spanish sounding ban-ho(banjo) fit the song perfectly. Their discussion of Dennis’ “ban-ho” was one of the nights comedic moments that had the crowd firmly in their pocket’s.

Steve’s “Walk In The Irish Rain,” “Muley Was A Railroad Man” and John Penn’s “Moonlight Motor Inn” showed off the three part harmony that had me in seventh heaven. What GREAT vocals from an equally hot instrumental group. My favorite song of Steve’s wPRESCRIPTION BLUEGRASS IMAGE  -  BLUEGRASS ETC.  PHOTO BY W.J. HALLOCKas his own “A Farmer’s Son.” John’s finger picking on guitar made the song an intimate look into the writer’s mind and made Steve’s vocals even more poignant. These guys are master’s at knowing when TO play and when NOT to play.

Talking to John Moore is like talking to your oldest friend … you can talk about anything and enjoy the conversation. John spends about six months of the year in the Scandinavian countries putting on horse training clinics. His love for horses and the cowboy lifestyle is evident in everything about him. He had broken the pinky finger on his right, picking, hand several weeks earlier, working with a problem horse, but it didn’t slow down his guitar playing in the least. Atta way to cowboy up John!!!

We spent as much time discussing saddles, horses and breaking colts as we did his well worn post-'72 Martin D35 guitar. John is the band’s predominant emcee, and his comedic timing and interplay with the audience is exceptional. He also sings as well as he plays! He sang lead on several gospel tunes, Marty Robbins’ “Big Iron” and my favorite tune, “Tennessee Stud.” His vocal’s were the focal point on the hilariously funny religious parody, “A Matter Of Policy.” You have to hear this song LIVE to fully enjoy it, and the band had as much fun doing it as we all did listening to it and trying to sing along!

In discussing Bluegrass Etc., John shared his mixed feelings about his love for his music and his commitment to his horse training duties. The band used to play about 200 dates a year, but, now they only play about 12 to 15 dates because John spends so much time in Europe. He was leaving for Oslo in a matter of days and would be back the night before their next scheduled performance in Vista, California at the SummerGrass Festival, August 15th through the 17th.

Dennis Caplinger is, simply put, a monster banjo player! He can play any style you want and do it with strength, dexterity, feel and passion. He amazed me! We were sitting only about fifteen feet away from them and to watch him play is as much fun as it is to hear him play. No matter what the song was, he added the perfect accompaniment. Vocally he added that low third to the trio, and the one song he sang, “Miles and Miles of Texas,” was filled with personality and zing! From his home in Temecula, CA, complete with a recording studio, Dennis is the go-to multi instrumentalist on the West Coast. You can hear him play on the “Simpson’s” TV show, and he won a Grammy Award for his fiddle work on Eric Clapton’s “Road To Escondido.” Quite a track record, and it continues heavily for him. Dennis said that between his schedule and John’s, they had started a solo album for John seven years ago that still wasn’t finished!

This was the second year that Bluegrass Etc. had played The Blue Spruce, and owner Tom Burns is hoping to make it a yearly event. All I can say is that this was one of the best concerts I’ve been to in years. I was thrilled to meet three of my musical heroes, the natural outdoor setting was splendid and my wife, Mary Ann, my grandson Mason and I enjoyed it to the max. I sure do look forward to seeing them play again and visiting with old friends.

If you are ever anywhere near where Bluegrass Etc. is going to be playing, do yourself a favor and DO NOT miss them!

No comments: