Hard to imagine that the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? influences many weddings, but it’s possible, according to Peter LaBau. The banjo player for Charlottesville’s Bent Mountain Trio thinks maybe that flick had something to do with the rising popularity of bluegrass music.
And that sound has also become a trend for local weddings.
“People getting married here want to capture the culture of Virginia: farms, barns and the rural feel,” LaBau says. “What music goes along with that? It’s not salsa, it’s not a German oompah band. It’s bluegrass.”
Janet Joyce Arzte agreed, which is why she hired Bent Mountain Trio to play for her September 19 wedding at Verulam Farm in Crozet. She says she’d always wanted bluegrass music for her big day and that it helped provide a unique feel that her guests—many of them from New York City—appreciated.
“It gave us the ability to make people feel like they’re in the country, and to see a side of Charlottesville they wouldn’t see if they were just visiting Monticello,” she says.
The sound of music
While you might expect bluegrass music to be reserved for the reception, you’d be wrong. Brides are incorporating the sound into the rehearsal dinner, the reception and everything in between. Whether it’s cocktail hour or the actual ceremony, bluegrass can be versatile enough to fit the mood.
What songs are requested? LaBau said it varies based on the bride’s choice. Bent Mountain Trio—comprising a banjo, upright bass and guitar—has played everything from very traditional wedding choices, like Pachelbel’s “Canon in D,” to Appalachian melodies. (Artze walked down the aisle to Bent Mountain plucking out “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”)
At the reception, LaBau says it’s interesting to hear the requests that come from the crowd.
“Older people ask for ‘Rocky Top,’ and a lot of younger people will ask for ‘Wagon Wheel.’ It’s just the sound. These instruments…it seems to work magic.” But he adds that a bluegrass band is more versatile than you might think: “They’re just instruments—you can play anything on them. We’ll do ragtime or jazz.”
And what does a bluegrass band wear to perform at a formal occasion like a wedding? Unless the happy couple makes a specific request for blue jeans and bare feet, they “dress up like anybody does,” LaBau says, laughing. But that’s the kind of question that did spark a conversation for the band when they were trying to describe what they could offer to a bride. They wanted to capture the essence of the music as well as the event, which is why Bent Mountain Trio describes their own style in a way that’s nearly as unique as a banjo at a wedding: “cocktailgrass.”