CRAZY STRINGS at the Silver Dollar (486 Spadina), Wednesday (January 30). $5, with student ID $3. 416-975-0909. See listings.
At about 10 pm on a Wednesday night, five men huddle around a single microphone. As the familiar banjo twang of Turkey In The Straw rings out from the stage, a girl in a Dropkick Murphys T-shirt do-si-dos with her blue-haired partner, while an older mustachioed gentleman stands transfixed in the corner of the room, watching intently as mandolin, fiddle and stand-up bass players take lightning-fast solos.
It feels like a meeting of worlds, but it's a familiar scene to anyone who's stopped by the Silver Dollar on a Wednesday night in the last decade and a half, where the informal virtuosos known as Crazy Strings have been uniting disparate crowds through the timeless twang of bluegrass, three sets at a time. On January 30, they celebrate the 15th anniversary of their legendary mid-week residency.
"It definitely doesn't feel like it's been that long," says fiddler John Showman, grabbing a seat in the back room between sets. "We're excited to show up and play every week, so it stays fresh."
"There's just something special about it," adds claw-hammer banjo player Chris Coole. "When you're playing bluegrass and old-time music to crowds of 100 to 150 people any given Wednesday, that really gives you a reason to put a lot into it. It's a fun room, and people get a feel for that energy."
The good vibes have a lot to do with the casualness of the band, whose bottomless repertoire allows for any of their friends to jump onstage and join in. For the anniversary show, One Hundred Dollars singer Simone Schmidt and alt-country star Doug Paisley will make appearances.
The Crazy Strings lineup is nearly identical to that of the Foggy Hogtown Boys, plus Marc Roy on guitar, but on Wednesday night they're always Crazy Strings.
"Crazy Strings pretty much exist only under this roof," says Showman.
Though some of the younger student crowd likely consider the music novelty, the residency's longevity is testament to the genre's timelessness. Bluegrass has come in and out of style, surging in popularity in 2000 thanks to the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack and, more recently, Mumford & Sons' arena-rock climb, but Crazy Strings have proven immune to trends.
"If you're in this music thing for the long haul," says Coole, "it helps not to rely on whether or not somebody thinks it's cool."