For SweetGrass, the contest wasn't just about a festival slot.
A weekly update about upcoming concerts and notes on the local scene.
One of Madison's newer bluegrass outfits, SweetGrass, took the top spot in the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Association's Race for a Place competition during the recent Harvest Jam weekend, held Nov. 20-22 in Minneapolis. SweetGrass' performance earned the band a slot at next August's Minnesota Bluegrass & Old-Time Music Festival, an annual event that's twice been nominated for Festival of the Year by the Nashville-based International Bluegrass Music Association.
SweetGrass fiddler/vocalist Shauncey Ali says the group competed against about 10 bands. All played sets of 30 minutes or less and were judged on a point scale in ten categories. "We scored a 294 out of 300 possible points between three judges."
Ali says the band entered the contest not just to compete for the festival slot. "We decided to do the competition to hone our sound and force ourselves to dissect what we were doing. We figured it would be a great opportunity to set a short-term goal and follow through with it. Win or lose, we were sure to gain helpful insight about our sound as well as constructive feedback from sources we trust. We knew the competition would be a valuable experience at a very ripe point in the life of this group."
Along with Ali -- the 2008 winner of the Wisconsin State Fair fiddle contest -- the band also includes Trent Cuthbert on guitar, Cole Christianson on banjo, Pat Spaay on bass (all three also sing) and Mike Hedding on mandolin. Ali and Spaay also perform with the Old Tin Can String Band; Hedding and Cuthbert are members of the Eau Claire-based New North String Band. Ali says SweetGrass plans to begin recording their first album next spring.
There's three chances this week to catch SweetGrass in area clubs. Tuesday, Dec. 8, they'll be part of the weekly Mad Toast Live show at the Brink Lounge, along with Lojo Russo and hosts Chris Wagoner and Mary Gaines; show time is 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 10, catch a full evening of bluegrass at the Alchemy, starting at 10 p.m.. For more on their Saturday performance, read on.
SweetGrass completes the week in area clubs with a set at the fourth annual Last Day of Class Moustache Bash hosted by Madison "creepfunk" quintet Steez. The show also features Chafo and gets underway at 10 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, at the High Noon Saloon.
The "last day of class" reference is to the semester's end at UW. But what is a Moustache Bash? It's an informal contest to choose the best facial landscaping in the crowd on show night, with a secret prize awarded for the top finisher. Steez guitarist Steve Neary explained via e-mail how it will work: "We'll have an emcee and maybe one other person get up on stage and call up the people who think they've got the best 'staches in the house. They'll narrow it down to about 10 people who've got some serious business going on in the upper lip department and then bring them up on stage. From there, the emcee will elicit crowd response for each person going down the line, and will narrow it down to about three or four people. Then they'll go through the line again and determine the best 'stache based on whomever the crowd cheers for the loudest."
Neary says that while the band thinks of each of their shows a party -- "a place where people can come and drink and dance and forget about the real world for a little while" -- the Moustache Bash idea was created to bring a little something extra for the fans. "It was a fun concept ... and let them create something that would collaborate with the music to transcend the boundaries of what would have just been another show for us. It was also a fun way to get people involved and potentially draw in people that hadn't seen Steez before."
In addition to musical and moustache entertainment, concertgoers can help out a good cause by bringing non-perishable food donations for Second Harvest Food Bank.
Understated superstar chanteuse Norah Jones got a little louder recently by collaborating with various rock artists and producers for her new album, The Fall. The accompanying tour will pass through Madison, with a show at the Overture Center on Monday, March 15; tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 12.
For those with less staid musical tastes, tickets for An Evening With Gene Ween went on sale over the weekend. The show is scheduled for 9 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 11, at the High Noon Saloon. As reported on Ween's website, there will be only a few of these solo Gener dates, so Madison is lucky to be among the chosen. Milwaukee accordionist/pianist Margaret Stutt, who performs at Pezzettino, will open. (FYI: Pezzettino will also perform a 7-inch release show at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday, Dec. 12, at the Project Lodge, with Shane Shane.)