THE GRASCALS with the FOGGY HOGTOWN BOYS at the Silver Dollar (486 Spadina), tonight (Thursday, August 9), 8 pm. $20. 416-763-9139. Rating: NNNNN
On paper, primo Nashville pickers the Grascals might seem a bluegrass world away from hometown fave openers the Foggy Hogtown Boys.
After all, those Grascals boys boast impressive credentials, having come through the ranks of the Osbourne Brothers and Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time on their way to back-to-back Grammy nominations for their first two discs - 2005's self-titled debut and 2006's Long List Of Heartaches - and the International Bluegrass Music Association's coveted entertainer of the year award for 2006.
They've got serious chops all right, but what's made the Grascals the bluegrass band to beat isn't showy technique or flashy getups. And it's certainly not any acrobatic stage gimmicks.
Nope, much like the Foggy Hogtown Boys, the Grascals are working to minimize the player/payer gap. That starts with ditching the matching polyester suits so the clothes they wear onstage are indistinguishable from those worn by the people in front of it.
The Grascals rely on soulful deliveries of well-written songs; the real key is that they always look like they're having a damn good time. That old bluegrass stoicism is gone, replaced by a warmly ingratiating jes'-folks sense of fun, sans the put-on hayseed humour.
"A lot of bands pick great and sing well, but they just kinda stand there looking serious," says Grascals lead singer/guitarist Terry Eldredge after finishing a set at the Oregon Jamboree. "We like to have fun, because if it's not fun it's work. Terry Smith and I learned about that during the 12 years we worked with Bobby and Sonny Osbourne.
"They weren't your typical stiff-collar bluegrass dudes. They'd always be jokin' about something, and we'd laugh with them onstage every night. They were also great harmony singers, and I picked up so much just by standing there. That stuff rubs off on you if you hang around long enough.
"Working with Dolly Parton was a real learning experience, too," he continues. "Her shows were always fun, but she was very professional about everything. She taught us that it takes hard work if you want to get anywhere in the music business. On the 40-date tour we did together, she changed the set list probably 18 times. After every show we'd have a rehearsal to learn new songs to replace the ones that were dropped. And Dolly does all her own sound checks, too - she ain't one of these types who lets someone else test her microphone for her."
Similarly, the Foggy Hogtown Boys are enjoying themselves a lot more onstage lately. It has nothing to do with the rave reviews of their dazzling new instrumental disc, Pigtown Fling, on which they happily make up their own bluegrass rules as they go along.
Those watching the Hogtowners closely will note that their looser demeanour appears to have coincided with the appearance of singer/bassist Max Heineman, who joined the group after the abrupt departure of bassist John McNaughton.
"We don't even know why John left," confesses Foggy Hogtown Boys banjo boss Chris Quinn. "When he said he was going, we asked if he could tell us why and he said, 'Umm... not really.' That was it.
"As long as John was in the band, we never really got to know the man. He never told us anything. On a personal level, he didn't really blend with the rest of us. He never cracked any jokes and didn't laugh at ours.
"With Max in the band, it's a completely different dynamic," Quinn offers happily. "He laughs at our jokes, and we tell him when his are inappropriate. He's definitely one of the guys, and a great singer, too. We're actually all singing more with Max in the band.
"I feel very fortunate to have this group of players where we can share a dialogue about this music and enjoy listening to each other as much as playing together. We're having such a great time now, and I think people are picking up on it at our shows."
Additional Audio Interview Clips
Having country legend George Jones perform a recitation of the Grascals' song Don't Tell Mama was a career highlight for group singer / songewriter Terry Eldredge
As soon as the Grascals get off the road, they plan to start recording their next album says Elredge.