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Bluegrass band shows energetic love for music, talent

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The Universalist Unitarian Church of Fresno hosted bluegrass band, Special Consensus, on the evening of Jan. 20.

Strolling towards the large, glass double doors of the Universalist Unitarian Church of Fresno, I heard the repetitive “check, 1, 2, 3 check” of bluegrass band Special Consensus‘ music soundcheck and moved faster to my seat in anticipation of the Jan. 20th concert. The members of the band were final tuning their instruments and honing in the perfect volume for each microphone. They soon disappeared backstage while the audience eagerly waited for the music to begin.

The genre of Bluegrass music, sometimes labeled hillbilly jazz, originated around 1948 in the Appalachia region of the United States. Bluegrass’s mixed roots come from Irish, Scottish, English and Welsh traditional music and were later influenced by African-American jazz. Typical instruments in a bluegrass band are the fiddle, acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo, dobro and the upright bass. I found myself wishing a live performance of this music would sound equally wonderful as the recordings. Their performance did not disappoint.

The band casually came out on stage, called a greeting to the crowd, and got right into the first song. Members include Mandolin player Nick Dumas to the far left, with Dan Eubanks on bass next to him. To the right of Eubanks featured acoustic guitarist Rick Faris and original member Greg Cahill picking the banjo farthest right.

The first song was on the slower side, seemingly to help warm up their fingers because an uptempo song followed. I was surprised with the amount of talking and friendliness each of the band members possessed. After every song they would interact with the crowd, talking and telling jokes, mostly about each other, especially picking on Cahill by hurling an array of banjo and old man jokes at him, all in good fun. 

After listening to the most recent albums, like ‘Country Boy- A Bluegrass Tribute to John Denver’ and Grammy nominated ‘Scratch Gravel Road’, I was delighted when I recognized songs such as ‘On My Way to the Kingdom Land’ and title song ‘Scratch Gravel Road’. Each song presented an opportunity for a solo, but played differently each time. I loved this improv and marveled at the practice and talent needed to get to this level of expertise while at the same time having fun and making it look so relaxed and easy.

The venue, the Universalist Unitarian Church of Fresno allowed a large number of people to fit in while making it seem spacious, at the same time possessing a warm and friendly atmosphere. The members of the older generation consisted of mostly an older crowd with a sharp contrast of young aspiring bluegrass musicians. Banjo player Greg Cahill appreciates the diversity of venues they are able to play.

Some of the bigger festivals with a larger variety of music will have people dancing and interacting around the music and requesting specific songs which is pretty cool. So it’s all different, but the main thing is they just love the music. — Greg Cahill

“It depends on the type of venue,” Cahill said. “Like tonight we were here in the church and were sponsored by the Bluegrass Association of California so probably half the people were players themselves. Then there are other places we might do a concert, part of a classical music concert or a pop series. So those audiences are not as familiar with bluegrass but they usually like it. Some of the bigger festivals with a larger variety of music will have people dancing and interacting around the music and requesting specific songs which is pretty cool. So it’s all different, but the main thing is they just love the music.”

The thing that stood out to me most, however, was how the band was so warm and personal with the audience. During their performance, they took an intermission break and stepped down off the stage and started chatting with people while making their way towards their concessions booth where they delighted in taking photographs and signing albums for people. This fascinating experience shocked me for I had no idea I would have the awesome chance to meet and talk with the members of the band.

In my conversation with Cahill, I had the privilege to ask about their trip to Valley Children’s Hospital and the results. Other topics ranged from detailed parts of the banjo to our shared love of Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago area.

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The band was warm and engaging with the audience, speaking with fans after the performance.

“We got to see some of the kids they brought down for the concert there with their parents and we just really wanted to make them smile for a bit,” Cahill said. “ We just wanted to ease their day, and help make their day better. We were really happy we could do it, in fact we stayed a little bit longer than we had planned just because we were having a good time and got to talk to a lot of them.”

I loved how such talented musicians enjoyed mingling with the crowd. They displayed their love of music by playing from the soundcheck through the two hour concert, even playing together after everyone left, while laughing and enjoying themselves throughout the night. Their passion for music and friendliness to people really drew me in.

For more music concert reviews, read about Tour de Compadres.

This author can be reach via twitter @alexrurik23 and via email

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