Thalian Hall is undoubtedly a cultural cornerstone in Wilmington. Through their Legends and Main Attractions Series, they’ve brought art and performances of the highest caliber. Their 2016-2017 season has brought with it the celebrated vocal quartet The Drifters, political-satire singers Capitol Steps, and versatile NC musician Charlie Daniels. As any Wilmingtonians know, local music is a thriving and integral part of the Port City’s culture, too. So, while bringing in big names from elsewhere is exciting, promoting up-and-coming artists in our own backyard has become a focal point in Thalian’s curation, which debuts an all-local Main Attractions concert on Apr. 27, with a Bluegrass Bash, featuring Massive Grass and Folkstone Stringband.
Gary Tucker, Thalian’s marketing director, says for the past four or five years, Thalian has wanted to dip its toes into the local pool of musical talent. A “happy accident,” as he calls it, finally pushed them to dive in.
“We originally had booked a group called the ‘Quebe Sisters,’” he describes. “They’re a bluegrass group out of Texas—and we had gotten Massive Grass to be the opener. That said, [Quebe Sisters] double-booked themselves and had to cancel on us. . . . We saw this as an opportunity to get another band to go along with Massive Grass and give it a shot.”
Their decision to host an all-local bluegrass concert was not entirely based in coincidence. Bluegrass has experienced a boom in the past few years across town and has no end in sight per slowing in its popularity. With contemporary bands such as Mumford & Sons, utilizing bluegrass instruments and elements in their music, younger audiences have started to pay more attention to the genre. The genre also has branched off into the more modern “newgrass,” known as progressive bluegrass. Newgrass groups incorporate nontraditional instruments and often take influences from rock ‘n’ roll and jam bands—which has helped define “jamgrass.”
“When we started out, we were going to be a kind of hybrid between hard rock and bluegrass,” Massive Grass upright bassist Ken Groce says, “and it’s taken more of a bluegrass turn over the years. It still has a little bit of a harder-edge, high-energy sound.”
Massive Grass is well known on Wilmington’s local scene, often playing and jamming at smaller venues and bars. Along with Folkstone Stringband, they have a following to fill Thalian’s 500 seats. They will take to the stage at 7:30 p.m.
Many of its band members began their musical careers in rock and/or metal bands. But growing up in the hills of North Carolina planted an appreciation for ‘grass, which eventually bloomed into the outfit they’ve become today.
While Massive Grass will perform mostly their own compositions, Folkstone will follow with a mixture of original and traditional songs by iconic bluegrass artists, such as Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. After attending college near Asheville, and meeting young bluegrass musicians, Jones Smith became inspired to play banjo and mandolin, which has led him to delve deeply into the music tradition. For the Bluegrass Bash, he hopes to pass on his passion to people who may not have had exposure to bluegrass.
“I think we’re going to have a really good crowd,” Smith says. “We’re going to have a lot of our fans and friends, and maybe people who don’t come out to the bars. Hopefully, some of the Thalian regulars will get to see a piece of North Carolina culture.”
Following a second intermission, both bands will take the stage to play some traditional songs together.
Before concertgoers settle for the music, they can hang out at the pre-show party and enjoy local food. In the front parking lot, two food trucks, 2 Bros Coastal Cuisine and Port City Que, will provide sandwiches, burgers, barbecue, and more. Waterline Brew Company will set up in Thalian’s lobby, so visitors can taste locally brewed beer. The pre-party starts at 6 p.m.
“We figured, since we were inviting [groups] that had never been here before, and [Thalian] is not the environment they’re used to having, it will give the people what they want,” Tucker says—“make it feel like something that is comfortable for them and make sure that they have a wonderful time.”
For more information on the Bluegrass Bash, visit thalianhall.org. To keep up with the bands, folks can visit Massive Grass at massivegrass.com and Folkstone Stringband at folkstonestringband.com.