Sunday, June 04, 2006

The "next big thing" in bluegrass?

As I wrote in the last post, the breakout act of the Bluegrass on the River festival was Cadillac Sky, which Festival Preview will next be seeing at the Grey Fox festival next month. "C-Sky" (a little too cute, but OK) hails from that hotbed of bluegrass, Fort Worth, Texas. C-Sky's sets, both on the main River Stage and the Pickin' Parlor, were full of brilliant technical musical feats and smooth stage banter. Packed with world-class pickers and vocalists, C-Sky has just signed with Skaggs Family Records. Mandolinist Bryan Simpson acts as the band's frontman and owes a striking vocal debt to Bill Monroe and Danny Barnes. His mando style owes more to Ricky Skaggs than Sam Bush, and that may be the key to understanding the immediate future prospects of this eminently competent unit.

By far, Cadillac Sky is the most radio-friendly band in this fest. Featuring award-winning musicians and clever, hook-laden tunes, Cadillac Sky looks to be the next big bluegrass-to-country crossover band.  If the right video director can be found, the master tapes of C-Sky's last studio effort may, under Skaggs Family Records guidance, be the next Dixie Chicks style breakout.

One measure I have found useful in determining a band's commercial viability is the murder-to-love ratio. This ratio compares the number of murder ballads in a set to the number of love songs. If murder ballads equal the love songs there's probably not much Garth Brooks can do for you. If the setlist has more love songs than murder ballads, there's a potential for radio interest. Commercial radio tends to avoid bands who include more murder ballads than love songs (which may explain why Tim O'Brien is still relatively unknown).

Cadillac Sky has terrific technical skills and impressive stage presence. An undeniably entertaining time will be had. These are polished, professional players who combine instrumental chops and slick vocal harmonies in sets that features tunes about romantic love and nothing at all about murder.

When the new CD, "Blind Man Walking" is released this year, I predict commercial attention similar to the reception the Dixie Chicks enjoyed in their commerical debut year. I fear, though, that the Nashville influence might redirect the energies of this exciting band into channels more palatable to fous groups and video directors. CMT is not a musical medium. GAC is dedicated to drawing advertising dollars.

Whatever happens, C-Sky gets my vote for the Next Big Thing, and I do wish them well - thye are nice guys with astonishing musical chops. Obscurity has its own purity and success doesn't always mean sellout. But I worry - there was a time when the Dixie Chicks won the band competition at the decidedly un-radio-friendly Telluride Bluegrass Festival. -- Zen Curmudgeon

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