Flying Cat Music is pleased to bring the internationally acclaimed progressive bluegrass band Hickory Project to Phoenicia on Sunday, July 20, in a concert at the Empire State Railway Museum located at 70 Lower High Street. The show begins promptly at 7:30 p.m. with the door opening at 7:00. Admission is $15 or $13 with RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 845-688-9453.
What happens when several musicians of extraordinary talent, each steeped in roots music traditions, join together to celebrate a collective adventuresome spirit? No doubt there’s more than one possible response to that query, but Hickory Project is high on the list of correct answers. This dynamic band offers a diverse, eclectic blend of hard driving, innovative, and high-energy original and traditional acoustic music that is deeply rooted in bluegrass. Their self -proclaimed mission has been and remains “to link the old and new in acoustic music,” a goal they achieve spectacularly. Bluegrass Unlimited, widely considered the premier magazine for bluegrass music, says of them: “Hickory Project embodies much of what carries the best of bluegrass and progressive acoustic music into the twenty-first century” and “Hickory Project is on the forefront of the contemporary bluegrass movement.”
What started as a routine experiment in 2001 turned into an ongoing, revolutionary, globe-trotting project that, seven CDs and one DVD later, fortunately shows no signs of abating. This Pennsylvania based band, with members drawn from across the nation and beyond, has played throughout the United States and the world including Australia, Ireland, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, and Brazil. Nine days after leaving Phoenicia, in fact, Hickory Project will be a headliner at the La Roche Bluegrass Festival in France. Their touring reaps Hickory Project superlatives from far afield such as this review in Bluegrass Australia Magazine of their live performances, “Audiences … sit up and take note of the incredible musicianship, vocals, and original music presented by the band.”
Though there have been some lineup changes over the years, the high level of musicianship of Hickory Project never falters, with three of the original members still playing in the group. That includes founder Anthony Hannigan, the lightning fast 1999 Walnut Valley National Mandolin Champion, who started playing bluegrass at age four. In the years since, he’s worked with groundbreaking artists including Vassar Clements, David Grisman, David Bromberg, and Frank Wakefield. Another Hickory Project original, David Cavage, ranks among the finest banjo players and songwriters in bluegrass music today. Bluegrass Unlimited describes his playing succinctly by noting his “fearless improvisational style that sounds like Béla Fleck with an attitude.”
In fact, Hickory Project’s entire roster reads like an all-star team, with members who have shared stages with many of the leading lights of acoustic music while playing with other bands prior to, or in addition to, their stints with Hickory Project. Craig Vance for example, who joined Hickory Project after its inception, began his career as a solo act playing warm-up sets for such noteworthy performers as Doc and Merle Watson and for the Country Gentleman. Craig has taken first place honors in numerous guitar competitions and has performed on the nation’s top stages including Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. He is also a contributing columnist for Flatpicking Guitar Magazine.
When the entire seven member band performs, the audience is faced with an impressive array of instruments including two guitars, a banjo, an acoustic bass, a mandolin and a fiddle (or alternately two mandolins), as well as a flute or penny whistle. Even more impressive and eclectic though are the influences animating those instruments, with inspiration drawn from Celtic, classical, folk, rock, jazz, and swing, but always first and foremost bluegrass. Most of the material Hickory Project performs is original since the band is blessed with several sterling songwriters. Showcasing original material affords Hickory Project the creative space needed to forge its own unique sound.
Cavage believes the fusion elements Hickory Project brings to progressive bluegrass music enrich the tradition rather than diluting it. “I see young people interpreting bluegrass, just like Bill Monroe did with his music. Everyone has a different perspective about what bluegrass is. Mine is that I think that Bill Monroe would’ve liked to hear his music interpreted. Music is a circle, and to expand on others’ ideas and to create ideas of one’s own just makes the circle a little bigger.”
Come on Sunday evening prepared for a potent mix of amazing licks, haunting traditional themes, and mind boggling acoustic improvisation when Hickory Project takes the stage.