East Nash Grass presents their weekly residency to the world
Bluegrass music has a long tradition of bands performing frequently. In the 1970s, J.D. Crowe & the New South rose to popularity while performing five nights a week at the Red Slipper Lounge in Lexington, Kentucky. Meanwhile, the rare scene was gaining momentum in the Washington, D.C., area with weekly shows at the Red Fox Inn and later at the historic Birchmere Hotel. performance that Many have allowed these bands to not only grow musically, but also cultivate their own, almost cult-like, fan base.
As members of East Nash Grass – Harry Clark (mandolin), Maddie Denton (violin), James Key (mandolin), Gavin Largent (dobro), Jeff Baker (bass), and Corey Walker (banjo) – prepare to celebrate their sixth year of performing Monday nights at Dee’s, a sophomore record Last chance to win It is chart number 4 day paintingBluegrass chart, they were booked at festivals across the country, and were nominated for an IBMA award New artist of the year prize.
BGS recently caught up with James Key and Corey Walker to discuss the new album, the band’s origins, and the extended stay at Dee’s.
The East Nash Grass Band began with a rotating lineup in 2017, playing every Monday night at Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge. Can you tell me about the origins of the group, and when the lineup came together as something more than just a small weekend band?
James Key: We made a lot of lineup changes in the early days – and strengthened that lineup by 2018 or so, but it wasn’t as strong as the current lineup. We had Maddie (Denton) at the time, but Corey started playing with us full-time in 2019, as did Harry (Clarke). When that happened, the East Nash Grass case became serious. We gelled together. It’s been very comfortable musically and professionally as well.
Corey Walker: I got a gig in 2015 or 2016, at Arrington Vineyards, and I came up with the name of the band then. There has been a resurgence of bluegrass in the East Nashville area. When putting the band together, if I couldn’t get that person on mandolin, there were five others I could call. Then, Harry and I met this guy who worked at Dee’s and we wanted to do a weekly bluegrass show. That’s how we were connected in the beginning. But I wasn’t playing every Monday night, and around the same time Harry moved to Lexington for a few years to play for the Woks.
You’ve certainly become known for your unique stage presence and antics, between songs (and often during them), and you take that same energy from Madison to stages across the country. How has performing weekly for six years influenced the way you perform?
Chemical weapons: I’ve played with a lot of people who use the same old formula. I don’t want to be a mouthpiece for something that has always worked. That’s one of the things I love about playing in this band, is turning people’s heads upside down. It’s fresh air.
jk: We’ve each been sidemen in all these different bands, and many can suck the air out of a room between songs. They’re great, but we really wanted to tone it down. I have the same disdain for the “same old thing” that Corey does.
How has your stage presence been received in traditional performance spaces?
JK: It’s not for everyone, but there are never any negative experiences. Often times, they are not sure what to think. People might think we’re doing something different from other bands, but we’re doing a lot of the same thing, just in our own way. We went up to the Ryman Theater and thanked Tim Allen – twice.
CW: But there was…this is really new territory, as far as theatrical presentation goes. I love going back to Dee’s broadcast from last week and watching the clown moments, where someone does something off the wall and then everyone responds to it in some way. In any other band scenario, this person would be fired immediately.
Your performances are always unique, and so is this new record. How did you choose the material and start recording? Last chance to win?
JK: We knew there were some songs that people wanted us to record, which we were already doing. That was “Slippin’ Away” and “How I Love It So Much” and three or four songs. We went in and cut it down and got used to the environment, this particular studio and this first album with Jeff (Baker) on bass. I brought a lot of material to the first record, and I wanted to see what everyone would bring to this record. We ended up having this old vibe that happened naturally, and so we ended up finishing the record with more songs that fit that.
It seems like everyone in East Nash Grass has their own sound, even though each of you has worked with countless solo artists. What’s it like when everyone comes together and creates your own fanbase?
CW: Having a band where everyone has an opinion makes people care more about the music and want to stay. Even though we’ve all worked on bigger jobs, we all sit together downstairs. The people at our release show were primarily our age and younger. These people will stick around too.
Image source: Caitlin Ritz