As ubiquitous as bluegrass music is in modern-day New York City, sometimes it’s easy to forget about the greats who laid the groundwork for today’s lively scene. Last night at Jalopy, Brooklyn’s home for folk and roots music, Rick Snell (Mona’s Monday Night Bluegrass Session) paid tribute to the great Arthel Watson, otherwise known as Doc Watson, in a vibrant evening of diverse Doc Watson classics. Watson, who died in 2012, was known for his flat picking guitar style, but was also a phenomenal finger picker, as well as a banjo player and harmonica player. One of the pioneers of the bluegrass genre, he was born and spent most of his life in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina and played with the likes of Bill Monroe, David Grisman, and many others.
The Jalopy tribute, hosted by Snell, featured several NYC bluegrass legends of our era, including Andy Statman and Kenny Kosek, in addition to the next generation of talent, the astonishing banjo prodigy Nora Brown. Statman held bluegrass to the standards of Bill Monroe with his lightning-fast instrumental breaks, while Kosek’s tasteful, soulful fiddle playing offered a compelling contrast. A highlight of the evening was a 4 banjo rendition of the old time classic Cuckoo Bird, which was reimagined by Watson. Other highlights included “Windy and Warm,” a mesmerizing instrumental duet performed by Snell and multi-instrumentalist Jared Engel (bass/ banjo), and Snell’s chilling solo performance of the ballad “Matty Groves. Trip Henderson’s harmonica solos added soul and flavor to the evening, in addition to being a clear audience favorite.
In this age of individuality it’s worth acknowledging that very few musicians, or artists in general for that matter, operate in a vacuum —today’s groundbreaking musical ideas in the making are subject to the influence of the generations that came before. It’s important to pay tribute to our musical forefathers, and hopefully Snell’s Doc Watson Tribute is the first of many such evenings at Jalopy!