By Aaron Davis (for JHWeekly.com)
Growlers invade the UKingdom
Across England, Ireland and Scotland, Jackson’s own Random Canyon Growlers are among a growing sector of local bands that are broadening their scope and going big with their own music. This time, it’s across the pond.
The grizzly Growlers are a high-powered, hard-driving bluegrass machine with breakneck traditional chops. They have been an elastic unit over the last couple of years with a rotating cast of pickers that has settled into the current quintet—singer/songwriter/guitarist Jamie Drysdale, bassist Matt Donovan, fiddler Matt Herron, guitarist/mandolinist Jon DeGroot, and banjoist Brock Benjamin.
In the end, the recent United Kingdom tour was a grind of twenty-eight shows in twenty-six days, including six radio spots and a few moments of busking on the streets. Venues ranged from old barns and churches to pubs and living rooms. Shortly after the tour came to a close, I caught up with Donovan in England.
Aaron Davis: Have there been aspects of the shows or culture that you didn’t expect?
Matt Donovan: This was unchartered territory in many respects, so I tried to abandon expectations on the premise they can be restricting. One unexpected reaction we heard consistently was that this style of music isn’t readily available to the people. That reinforced our decision greatly and helped us establish a presence.
AD: How do you get from town to town/show to show?
MD: We have a tour manager with a van and a sound system that drove us throughout the entirety of the tour. We owe everything to him, literally and figuratively. In fact, we may still owe him like $20.
AD: Would you say there’s a difference in the audiences compared to the US? How? Are they knowledgeable/used to hearing bluegrass?
MD: Well the US is so huge and we’ve only toured the northwest, but comparatively speaking the audiences here have been really respectful and attentive. It was rare that we played in an atmosphere in which the music was secondary or served as a background. We, in turn, played stronger sets because we were much more engaged. The UK differed from Ireland in that bluegrass drew from Irish traditional music so there was something there that they identified with. Overall, the audiences know they like the sound of bluegrass but people don’t know much about the history of the music nor were they familiar with performers.
AD: What are the pros/cons of playing a show everyday on this tour?
MD: Clearly, budgeting energy and accepting the routine is a challenge. This trip was designed to lay the foundation for the future, which seems to have worked. Thus, the biggest benefit is that we will be coming back next year and continuing to build.
AD: Would you do it again and what, if anything, would you change about the tour?
MD: Actually, it looks like we are doing it again in 2013. The effort put into this tour is showing really positive results and there’s a good buzz about it. Streamlining our routing will also allow us to be more efficient with fuel and the number of dates we need for it to work.
JHW: Where to now?