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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

High Energy Bluegrass from Sideline @ the Ark

Even A Capella, Sideline Delivers Great Bluegrass!
So far, 2016 is shaping up to be a great "SeMiBluegrass" year and The Ark in Ann Arbor continues to bring some terrific music to southeast Michigan.  Saw a terrific show by the Claire Lynch Band a couple weeks back, and a killer night of Irish/Bluegrass from We Banjo 3 (see the SeMiBluegrass Facebook page for some photos) but I've been dying for some good ole, pedal-to-the-metal, hard-driving bluegrass.  So, when veteran IIIrd Tyme Out banjo picker Steve Dilling brought his new band Sideline to the Ark, it was an easy decision to catch the show (even on a school night).  I had seen them this past summer at the Marshall Bluegrass Festival and was excited to see their brand of high-energy bluegrass in one of the best listening rooms in the world--and boy-howdy did they deliver!

Dilling on the 5-string
I've been a fan of Steve Dilling ever since I saw him play with Russel Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out at the Oakland Community College Bluegrass series several years back.  Sure, he's a rock-solid banjo picker and a great Emcee.  He's also one of the best harmony vocal singers you'll run into.  However, having repeatedly run into him at various festivals, pick-up "cornhole" games and even the Jolly Pumpkin before the show, it is his easygoing demeanor; genuine friendliness and approachability; and quick smile that truly set him apart from the crowd.   Sure, it's time-honored bluegrass tradition to be accessible to the fans, but Steve seems to have made it a personal mission to get to know every fan he meets.   

On this night, Dilling certainly brought his "A" game.  Playing a new "Dilling Model" custom banjo from a luthier with a tongue-paralyzing eastern European name, Steve pulled off some light-speed rolls, bluesy string bends, luscious harmonic tone-laced, face-melting breaks with ease and reckless abandon.  Perhaps re-energized by playing in a band with son-in-law Skip Cherryholmes, Dilling obviously is having the time of his life playing in the band, and it shows in every note he plays.  He even pulled off a pretty memorable song or two on the mandolin as the evening progressed.  Steve Dilling is truly one of the finest performers in bluegrass today.

Skip Cherryholmes on guitar.
If Dilling's banjo work is the motor that drives Sideline, then Cherryholmes' rhythm guitar work is its' high-performance, nitro-fueled supercharger!  From the top of his immaculately gelled hair to the tip of his constantly tapping foot Skip throws himself bodily into every song, committing himself 100% to driving the band forward.   He holds NOTHING back.  When it comes to playing with Sideline, you can see the joy in his smile; in his Pete Townsend-esque jumping around on stage; and every time he yells, barks or screams "Yeah!" on stage.  He's INTO what he's doing.   No slouch when it comes to breaks either, he certainly adds a bluesy/rock-n-roll edge to his flatpicking that makes it just a little bit different (and I'd argue a little bit better) than what you usually hear in a traditional bluegrass band.  Equally at home singing lead of a variety of harmony vocals, as surprising high point of the night was his silky smooth and rich bass singing on an a capella gospel number.

Brian Aldridge on mando and vox
Dilling's long-time friend Brian Aldridge holds down the majority of the lead vocal work and is a fantastic mandolin player.  Not only is his tone amazing, but he is one of the crispest, and cleanest, mandolin pickers I've seen.  It was a true joy to watch him play.  Crisp and clear, but with the power to punch through the wall of drive coming out of the band, Brian's voice is super easy to hear and blends perfectly with the other members of the band.  I could listen to him sing all day!  While he's a terrific mandolin picker, it was his two-song stint on the banjo that really stood out to me.  This boy can really play the 5-string!  Like his mando playing, it was lightning fast, super efficient and had tone for miles!  He also rocked the "impossible to make look good" orange-shirt-under-stage-lighting look.

The future of bluegrass fiddle?--Nathan Aldridge
Truly the stand out performer of the night had to be Brian's younger brother Nathan Aldridge on the fiddle.   This modest young man makes up for his lack of witty stage banter (though his "Yep" answer to everything is somehow hilariously funny on its' own) with some ridiculously good fiddle chops--AND HE'S ONLY FREAKING SIXTEEN YEARS OLD!  Whether it's full, rich long-bowed fills, slap-you-in-the-face bow chops, or finger-blurring melody work, this young man embodies everything that bluegrass fiddle could--and should--sound like.  He pulled off a train-song/fiddle tune barnburner in the spotlight not once, but TWICE during the night.  Are you kidding me?  This kid is a pro!

Jason Moore
Rounding out the band is veteran bass man Jason Moore.  I first saw him play a few years back on the Ark's stage with Mountain Heart.  How can you not love his right-on-the-front-edge-of-the-beat thump that pushes the band forward.  I can't imagine a better musician to complement Skip Cherryholmes rhythm guitar work.  From his onstage quips and the twinkle in the eye, I suspect he's also the instigator of much of the bands off-stage shenanigans.

So, in the mood for some hard-driving, classic bluegrass--but with a decidedly modern edge?  Want to see five master's of their acoustic instrument put them through their paces for your entertainment.    And most assuredly, and most importantly, want to see five guys who obviously love what they do, and actually enjoy sharing the stage together?  If so, then make it a point to go see Sideline at a show near you.  Not sure how to find them?  I think there's even an App for that (no, seriously, search "Sideline Bluegrass" in the Apple App Store of on Google Play).  Whatever it takes, go see this band!

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More photos from the show below. Please tag, share and use with credit to Semibluegrass.com.  Click image for full-resolution photo!

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