It was a night of foot stomping, soul-warming bluegrass from the Renegade Stringband on April 9 at SOhO in downtown Santa Barbara.
The group is comprised of singer Jessica Jarris, banjo player Joe Seamons, guitarist Austin Moore (a Santa Barbara native), fiddler Ben Hunter and bassist Max Kutzman (plus dobro player Gavin Duffy who wasn’t present this time around). An eclectic group of people, Renegade Stringband offers a plethora of sounds that both delight and intrigue.
Each individual’s talent is impressive: Jessica Jarris’ voice offered powerful folk and blues tones that radiated through the space, while Kutzman’s stand-up bass gave the band a solid foundation. Seamons’ banjo gave their music that quintessential bluegrass feel when added to the richness of Moore’s guitar, and Ben Hunter’s fiddling is something truly outstanding. Listening to tunes like “Mission Creek” and “Walls of Time” is like walking through an apple orchard on a warm spring day.
It seemed that Jarris’ voice carried and blended seamlessly with the band. Of course, when I spoke to her after the show, she informed me that she had been classically trained. While well-trained, her musicality is intuitive and she treats each note with a kind of delicacy that makes it dessert for your ears.
The group also played bluegrass versions of famous tunes like “Chocolate Jesus” by Tom Waits and “Tighten Up” by the Black Keys, giving these popular songs a wonderful new (or old!) twist.
Renegade Stringband isn’t just a typical, traditional bluegrass group: They incorporate solid elements of folk, blues and even a little rock into their music, which enriches the cowboy-boots-necessary kind of sound in which they are grounded. Joe Seamons’ banjo on songs like “Anna’s Breakdown” exhibits the variety of their music. Each song offers a different glimpse of their many gifts, as there was not a dull moment during their SOhO show.
What’s more? It was a Tuesday night and still they got everyone dancing along to the irresistible sounds coming from stage. Bluegrass is a genre that is either loved or greatly disliked by people (and usually the people who think they dislike it just haven’t truly experienced it or think that it’s the same as country music).
Bluegrass lover or no, it’s almost hard not to love Renegade Stringband. Overlapping vocals in songs like “Terror Risin’ Blues” are accompanied by a slightly quieted banjo, with the thumping bass creating an earthy feeling that leaves the audience swaying and a little mesmerized. There is something wonderfully homey about their sound. Their connection with each other and passion for their music is obvious and left me feeling content and satisfied, like I could forget my worries for a little while.
If you’re just experiencing bluegrass music, Renegade Stringband will not disappoint. The band comes to the Santa Barbara area twice a year, so be sure to check them out when they swing by again.