Barry Waldrep says he never set out to be a talent scout or cultivator of the next generation, but this all-around Southern musical all-star has found himself in the appealing position of mentor. When Waldrep rounds out Roots this week with not one but two sets, it won’t be as a typical front man. He’ll be evoking the sound and spirit of his new album Live In Atlanta, with a collective known as the Band of Brothers & Sisters. And in many cases, those “siblings” are young artists he’s discovered and with whom he’s collaborated.
Let’s offer some background. Barry, who looks a bit like a mashup of Duane Allman and Trace Adkins, grew up in Georgia, son of prominent bluegrass musician James Waldrep. Barry was winning contests and playing festivals by ten years old, even joining Bill Monroe on stage. In the early 90s, he formed the progressive acoustic/electric band Rollin’ In The Hay. Deeply influenced by New Grass Revival and other edgy, grassy acts, Rollin’ showed the way for the jamgrass fusion of Leftover Salmon, Yonder Mountain String Band and others. More recently, Barry has been answering the call as a skilled multi-instrumental sideman, touring most prominently as a member of the Zac Brown Band, probably the rootsiest, jamiest band on country radio.
Waldrep is a speed demon on guitar, leading to a style that some have called, with great flattery, heavy metal on acoustic instruments. But as we learned on his first appearance on Roots, he’s also a fine singer and a writer who sort of pulls the whole Southern music-scape together. He’ll be joined this week during his round-robin sets by bluegrass band Flatt Loneseome, whom he heard by happenstance at a bluegrass convention, Atlanta artist Kurt Thomas, the Church Sisters and country singer Sarah Peacock. They’re the same folks you’ll hear on the new live album, and they represent a new direction for Barry as he emerges as a producer and talent developer.
“I got to thinking about everything I do and touring with different people and different genres,” he told me this week. “And I just kind of wanted to bring all of that together. It’s so wild to watch all these people from different backgrounds interact with each other in rehearsal. It’s so cool for someone to turn someone else on to something they don’t know.”
Barry’s set could be a Music City Roots variety show in itself, but we have much more in store for Show Number Two of our Winter 2012 season. The great John Cowan, a direct inspiration to Waldrep from his New Grass days, will open the show. Cowan has been on the road for most of the past year with the Doobie Brothers, so he’ll be primed to be John the band-leader again. Another favorite of ours, the Black Lillies return with their amazing modern take on classic country. The Ragbirds, featuring charismatic fiddler/singer Erin Zindle also come back with their fusion of Celtic, gypsy and swing. New to our stage this time will be Carolina Still, with still another take on the bluegrass archetypes.
It’s unclear how we’ll fit all these musicians back stage while they wait their turns, or on stage for the Loveless Jam. But with so much Southern ground in common, these are artists who should feel quite comfortable coming together at close quarters. We hope you’ll squeeze in as well.