The new newgrass revival: With bluegrass on top in Nashville, two local bands look to break through

Love Canon formed out of the ashes of local bluegrass powerhouse Old School Freight Train. Vocalist/guitarist Jesse Harper and mandolin/banjo picker Adam Larrabee were killing time on a long drive down I-81 when they first stumbled on the idea of playing ’80s hits through a bluegrass filter. Photo: Chris Peccoraro
Love Canon formed out of the ashes of local bluegrass powerhouse Old School Freight Train. Vocalist/guitarist Jesse Harper and mandolin/banjo picker Adam Larrabee were killing time on a long drive down I-81 when they first stumbled on the idea of playing ’80s hits through a bluegrass filter. Photo: Chris Pecoraro

Unbroken circle

Three days after Lockn’, Andy Thacker is at the Pickin’ Shack, a shed in Downtown Charlottesville where invited friends gather weekly to trade songs and pulls of whiskey. In between blitzing through scales on his mandolin, he fields inquiries about Love Canon’s festival set—a high point for a player who’s often seemed destined for bigger stages. He talks about bumping into one of his heroes, guitarist Derek Trucks, and the comfort of playing through a proper sound system.

Within the local music scene, Thacker is the quintessential bluegrass journeyman. He plays with everyone and through the years has done time in a list of different bands—Fairweather Bums, Walker’s Run, and current side project Gallatin Canyon. He grew up locally with parents who hosted old-time gatherings, but he initially rebelled and leaned towards rock. A trip to Merlefest turned a light on. He admired the camaraderie of people playing tunes together by campfires and eventually decided to pick up a mandolin his mom had sitting around the house. Interest became obsession and he started practicing during all spare moments. He finished second at the venerable Colorado-based Rockygrass Festival’s mandolin competition relatively early in his development—an accomplishment indicative of his talent.

“I learn things every time I play on stage with him,” said his Love Canon bandmate, Larrabee.

People have asked Thacker why he never moved to Nashville to pursue session work, but he has no interest in being a hired gun. “I’m not in this for cut-throat competition. I’m playing in a great band with the guys I’d want to be hanging out with every weekend anyway,” he said.

This is what makes the bluegrass scene special. It’s a small circle; a tight community of musicians who have each other’s backs. Larrabee took banjo lessons from Pandolfi when both lived in Boston; Thacker learned songs from the late Phil Gianinni, a former member of the Hackensaw Boys. These players stick together, even if they choose to play the music in a different way.

Thacker noticed something similar at Lockn’, where players from the jam band scene—another microcosm in the sonic big picture—foster a similar support system.

“It felt like a larger extension of what the Charlottesville music community is,” he said.

Maybe a local stage isn’t so bad after all.

 

Upcoming strums

Misty Mountain Music Festival: September 27-29, Greenwood, Virginia.

The Hackensaw Boys headline this local fest at Misty Mountain Campground that also includes host band Yankee Dixie, Mercy Creek, and Andy Thacker side project Gallatin Canyon.

The Festy Experience: October 11-13, Devils Backbone, Nelson County, Virginia.

Hosted and curated by the Infamous Stringdusters, this annual high-profile bash combines national acts with local favorites at the scenic concert grounds at Devils Backbone Brewery. Innovative strings will be plentiful from acts like Railroad Earth and Chris Thile—widely regarded as one of the best mandolin players in the world—playing in a duo project with Michael Daves.

Love Canon: November 27 at The Jefferson Theater.

The Hackensaw Boys: November 29 at The Jefferson Theater.

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