Dry Branch Fire Squad:
Capturing the Soul of American Music in 2011

(and with any luck, even beyond that)

Reviews 

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 as 2010 comes to a close.

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--2009)

     There is no band in bluegrass or country music today that captures the soul of American music better than the Fire Squad. Keith Lawrence, Knight-Ridder Newspapers

     For more than 25 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, May, 2001.

     With a career spanning over 25 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, May, 2000.

    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, May, 2000.

    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, May 2001.

    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, Jan/Feb. 1998.

    Dry Branch Fire Squad makes vibrant, engaging music that is immediate in its impact and timeless in its resonance. Express Times, Easton, PA, March, 2001.

    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, June, 2001.

    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 Ohio quintet 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, February 19, 1997

    (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, February, 1997

    In 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 music today.

 

 

 


Booking Information

Contact Bill Evans

Telephone: 510-528-1924

Email: bill@billevansbanjo.com