Dry Branch Fire Squad:
Capturing the Soul of American Music
One thing about performing music for so long is that we tend to enjoy the performing so much that we forget to update some of the information which we have put out about the band over the years. We are still as enthusiastic about our performances as ever--probably moreso, as we have learned to understand and appreciate our interactions with our audiences and to enjoy that relationship which is so important to bluegrass music and to us. So we have added a few more recent reviews, pictures, and more current general information to celebrate another great year for the band .
Dry Branch Fire Squad is the onliest band to have appeared at all sixty-one iterations of The Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival. I've begun to realize that Ron Thomason, the band's leader throughout its history, is a sort of Forest Gump of bluegrass. He's been THERE from the start at Fincastle and seems to have been involved in many of the most important moments in bluegrass history, either as a spectator or participant. He also represents the closest thing bluegrass has to offer to a genuine Will Rogers, Mark Twain kind of humorist. Ron describes himself as a conservative in the deepest sense of the word, clinging to the most important values that have helped to forge the strengths of our nation. His patter often hits home with pinpoint accuracy on elements of our society worthy of attention. Many hit home while others zoom right over the heads of those who could most benefit from understanding. Social commentary coupled with song choice from the oldest traditions of music to new and catching lyrics make Dry Branch Fire Squad one of the most important and entertaining bands in bluegrass much deserving of wider recognition. (From Ted Lehman's review of the Fall, 2010 Gettsburg Bluegrass Festival--used with his permission, as are the accompanying photos)
[As a side note we would like to mention that we've also been on the line-up at every Grey Fox Festival and every Winterhawk Festival before that. As hosts of that festival we proudly invite one and all.
The same is true of our High Mountain Hay Fever Festival. We've been there every year from the start and intend to keep our record perfect. Come see us there as well.)
I must say that my new favorite DBFS album (I still like the word) is Echoes of the Mountains. I put that recording up there with the best of the first generation of bluegrass recordings, and believe that it would appeal most to folks who know which recordings I'm referring to. Still I must qualify this opinion by saying that if I had to choose to have just one bluegrass CD it would be Dry Branch's 30th Anniversary. 30th has several new recordings by the band's latest line-up (which is the best ever) and a nice sample of the great songs and performances over the past three decades. But in fairness, no studio recording can capture the soul that DBFS puts into their concert performances; for that you still need to visit their two great "live" albums. (Shaw's pik's)
no band in bluegrass or country music today that captures the
soul of American music better than the Fire Squad. Keith Lawrence,
WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW WHY THIS BAND IS SO different from others?...It's a matter of receptiveness, of openness to a tradition....(they) show sensitivity and respect for the people who "made" this music....Here's a bit of advice: go see this band. (The music) is beautiful but there is another side to this band that must be experienced in the flesh: humor....I've seen full barrooms grow so quiet I could hear the soda fizz in my glass. And I've seen audiences so convulsed with laughter that minutes had to pass before the show could go on.--Joe Wilson, Ex. Dir. Nat'l. Cncl. Trad. Arts; author: The Crooked Road
For (almost 40) years Dry Branch Fire Squad has been one of bluegrass music's most popular bands, renowned for its spry mix of front-porch standards, modern ballads, and the old-time sounds from which bluegrass first sprang. The (quartet) is positively adored for its droll, scampy stage shows, fueled by Ron Thomason's cornpone-and-hard-cider wit. On their irresistible new Rounder concert CD, Live at the Newburyport Firehouse...his laconic monologues unfurl like long, laze serpents: When they strike, it's with such suddenness and accuracy that they almost leave you too breathless to laugh. Almost. Scott Alarik, Boston Globe
There are few, if any, bands
which revel in the bluegrass experience more than the Dry Branch
Fire Squad. Hand Hewn rates with the best in their extensive
library of works. Steve Romanoski, iBluegrass.
With a career spanning (nearly 40) years and a baker’s dozen albums, they have simultaneously preserved and expanded upon the bluegrass tradition. Musically, their starting point is a powerful, ruggedly soulful brand of classic bluegrass, which they enliven and reinvent using a wide ranging repertoire which encompasses vintage and contemporary sources. Sue Ann Pearson--NBP Firehouse Concert Hall
I don't know which I enjoy more - Dry Branch Fire Squad's hard-core, purebred bluegrass music, or leader/mc Ron Thomason's hilariously droll "country bumpkin" (but not really) monologues that are also a big part of the band's show and new, double-disc "Live at the Newburyport Fire House" set on Rounder. Jonathan Takiff, Philadelphia Daily News
It¹s old-time vocals
shouted out with honesty and conviction rough edges proudly
showing, breathtakingly quick that bring to mind free-spirited
wild horses, Ron Thomason¹s biting satire and wry political
commentary, hauntingly moving a cappella gospel songs, pure unadulterated
old-time religion set to mountain music. This is the Dry Branch
Fire Squad. Nancy Cardwell, Bluegrass Now.
Resonating throughout, of
course, is Ron Thomason¹s passionate, moaning, cracking
voice, old-time and authentic yet unfailingly musical. The man¹s
a national treasure, for his brilliant on-stage humor, his abiding
commitment to taking his intelligence ever deeper into the sources
and meaning of the music, and the intensity of his singing. He
has an unerring sensibility for what brought many of us to country
and bluegrass music. Bluegrass Unlimited..
As much as country music¹s
new traditionalists pride themselves for their purity, they will
have to go a long way to capture the historical resonance and
simplicity found in the Dry Branch Fire Squad...A sense of austerity
guides the quintet's music; a lonesome Appalachian harmony...is
at the heart of a tale as dire as it is epic. Utterly refined,
these songs, drawn from the public domain, are about heavenly
rewards and earthly strife and offer an unyielding emotional
veracity. The New York Times
Rarely does old-time music
sound so new and powerful. Brian Whepley, The Wichita Eagle..
Simply put, this is the best
live band playing today...each time I was moved not only to laughter,
but tears and joy as well. Every time. Chris Stuart, Southern
California Bluegrass News..
Dry Branch Fire Squad makes
vibrant, engaging music that is immediate in its impact and timeless
in its resonance. Express Times, Easton, PA.
No white hats, no synths,
no navels hanging out; these people are thoroughly for real.
Voices are as hand hewn as the title implies, no suggestions
of blues or rock or anything but generations of Appalachia in
their tone. Mary Armstrong, Philadelphia City Paper.
Listening to the Dry Branch
Fire Squad, you hear what country music used to sound like back
in smoky hollows before people began to improve on it. The approach
of this... quartet is as basic as it is timeless: simple stories,
packed with emotion, sung from the heels...The Dry Branch Fire
Squad makes you feel their passion and resolve...The uncluttered
accompaniment of mandolin, guitar, banjo and bass in various
combinations adds just the right amount of sweetness or
melancholy or zest. Stereo Review
What separates the band from
most neotraditionalists is its knowing, unsentimental evocation
of mountain culture. Rather than representing Appalachia as a
kind of mythical paradise lost (as the Carter Family frequently
did), the band often speaks to the present-day realities of lost
jobs, rural slums, poverty and social disintegration. Reed Johnson, Los
Angeles Daily News.
(Ron Thomason) covers many
subjects, ranging from poverty to racism, education to the arts,
class differences to testosterone, horses to music, all in an
absorbing, flowing drawl...I can¹t think of a better introduction
to American music Dry Branch is so much more than a bluegrass
band. Jamie O' Brien, Putting On Airs.
In (more than) thirty-five years of music
making, Rounder recording artists, Dry Branch Fire Squad, have
become an institution in American acoustic music. Inspired by
an fierce and uncompromising loyalty to the most traditional
aspects of bluegrass, old time and southern gospel music, Dry
Branch Fire Squad is fueled by the musical vision and cultural
commentary of Ron Thomason. Unlike most bluegrass groups, Dry
Branch Fire Squad sells neither itself, its members, nor even
particular bluegrass songs. What it markets are the emotions
which stimulated the creation of bluegrass and mountain music
as well as a taste of the culture in which this music evolved.
A native of southwest Virginia,
Thomason founded the Dry Branch Fire Squad in 1976. To date,
the band has recorded over twenty-three projects and performed
at the most prestigious acoustic music venues and festivals in
North America. Most bluegrass observers agree that Dry Branch's
current line-up is one of its strongest ever: in addition to
Ron Thomason on mandolin, guitar and lead vocals; other group
members are Brian Aldridge on guitar, mandolin and harmony vocals; Tom Boyd on banjo, Dobro and harmony vocals; and
Danny Russell on bass and harmony vocals.
Dry Branch Fire Squad has
performed numerous times for the National Council for the Traditional
Arts, the Smithsonian Institution and has toured internationally
for the U. S. Information Agency. The band¹s all-gospel
release Golgotha was chosen by the Library of Congress
for its Select List of significant recordings of American music.
This year, Dry Branch Fire Squad will once again tour from coast
to coast, appearing at some of the most prestigious music events
in North America including their 60th consecutive appearance
at the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival in Gettysburg, PA; the Strawberry
Park Festival in Preston, CT; and the Festival of the Bluegrass
in Lexington, KY. The group will also host the Grey Fox Bluegrass
Festival in Oak Hill, NY,(formerly the Winterhawk Bluegrass Festival), the largest
bluegrass festival in the Northeast as well as the High Mountain
Hay Fever Festival in Westcliffe, CO, (one of the fastest growing
all acoustic festivals in the U.S.)
The band's latest recording project, Echoes of the Mountains has been as well-received as their much-hearlded two-disc set titled Live at the Newburyport Firehouse which received rave reviews and was followed up with the band's fifth cover article in Bluegrass Unlimited and a cover story on the band's leader in Bluegrass Now, the two leading publications in the bluegrass trade.
The band's earlier studio projects, Hand Hewn and Memories
That Bless and Burn, an all-gospel compilation featuring
six newly recorded tracks, let many
more people in on a secret that the bluegrass community has
already known for years: Dry Branch Fire Squad is one of most
entertaining and emotionally moving performance groups in American