Groove in the Garden is back today for its third year within the Stephenson Amphitheater and Rose Garden at Raleigh Little Theatre. The all-day festival has become one of the hidden gems of the local music scene, with some of the greatest area bands coming together to form eclectic lineups that can’t be found anywhere else on the concert calendar.
Tickets will run $25 at the gate, but the names on the music bill are more than worth the price of admission (even if a portion of the proceeds weren’t going toward Girls Rock NC): the newly Tex-Mexed out sound of American Aquarium; the indie rock local powerhouse known as Bombadil; and one of the most buzzed-about members of the bluegrass scene in Hank, Pattie & the Current.
Coming off of acclaimed showcase performances at this year’s IBMA Bluegrass Wide Open, as well as their debut performance upon the stage of the area’s jewel bluegrass venue of Fletcher Opera Theater. We had the chance to get both Hank and Pattie on the phone to discuss their history in bluegrass; pushback from traditionalists; and Bela Fleck tribute bands.
Isaac Weeks: You guys both had backgrounds in bluegrass before coming together. How hard have you found it to be in creating a spot for your own band within the bluegrass community around the Piedmont area? I know, to me, it feels like it would be way too easy for music bookers at some venues to just think, “Eh, one bluegrass band is as good as the next, folks will buy tickets as long as it says bluegrass…”
Pattie Hopkins Kinlaw: As far as how we fit within bluegrass, it is a little different. If you want to say that we are influenced by bluegrass, I think our band is influenced by bluegrass more than anything else. We have traditional bluegrass instrumentation, so it hasn’t been that hard to find folks who want to work with us out in the [music] field. I don’t think we fall into the traditional bluegrass festival category, but we do pride ourselves on being innovators who can admire the genre itself.
Hank Smith: I think it’s worth mentioning that, if it were as simple as “here is a giant pool of bluegrass musicians”, and then you’re just drawn out of a hat…it’s not as simple as that. As Pattie was alluding to, it’s more about networking, and getting the name of your band out there. You’re right, there are a lot, and it’s supersaturated. The music itself sets our band apart.
IW: The band just had its debut on the Fletcher Opera stage last month. Touching on the local bluegrass scene, how inviting have you found certain bluegrass organizations to be locally to fledgling bands like yours?
HS: We absolutely wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are now without them. We owe a lot to them, and their support, and they’ve done so much for us over the years. [Pinecone] has been instrumental to our success. And they’ve helped a lot of people, a lot of bands that they’ve gone to bat for.
IW: As Pattie alluded to earlier, your music is influenced by many other genres outside of bluegrass. I know some of your songs have clear hints at Latin and classical, jazz…I’ve seen you described as soul grass. Have you ever ran into any pushback from more traditional bluegrass bands, or other organizations?
PHK: My mom and I were talking about the music industry in general last night…the thing about Hank and I, I know Hank has been deeply involved in traditional bluegrass his entire career, and Bill Monroe was the first musician that I learned the music of when I was learning how to play the fiddle. We come from a place where we played the jam favorites in bands before, but our influences as young musicians will always be there. America has created a lot of beautiful musical genres, not just bluegrass, and we love them.
HS: As Rhiannon Giddens recently said, “Its time to bring diversity back to bluegrass.” There is definitely a group of people who are trying to hold onto what they view as a traditional ideal and aesthetic, and there’s nothing wrong with that, and you can’t really have bluegrass without these traditions; but the adherence of that as gospel is a little much, and what’s worse is when they attempt to foist that upon you as gospel and the only thing that is valid in the musical form. Worshipping musicians like Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs is fine, but it’s valid to point out that Scruggs and Monroe would have never told a musician to sit there and play something exactly like they did. They believed in innovation. Every musical legend that I’ve ever talked to has said something like that: I met Bela Fleck in a hotel room jam, and at that time I was starting a Fleck tribute band, and he said, “I think its great that you are doing that, but do whatever you want to do with the music.”
IW: Hank has a background in a handful of different bluegrass bands – I remember Barefoot Manner, off the top of my head – and Pattie had a wide range of genres, including classical chamber. What drew you two to putting a bluegrass group together, and believing it would work out?
PHK: Hank and I were in a band together for a while, which was where we met, and people started to focus on their own projects. Hank and I were the professional musicians in both bands, so we looked at each other and basically said, “Alright, what should we do next?” That’s basically how the band was born!
HS: We sought out people, wanting a specific thing, who could reflect through the music who we were as people. We wanted to have the freedom to do whatever we wanted, in the capacity of the music, keeping it more or less in traditional instruments.