Laurel Highlands Bluegrass Festival, Ligonier PA, June 19
After 35 years, Greg Cahill and his band continue to spread the gospel of bluegrass
By JEREMY D. BONFIGLIO - H-P Features Writer
Published: Thursday, May 20, 2010 1:07 PM EDT
Greg Cahill pauses at the thought.
It's been 35 years since the banjo player started his bluegrass band The Special Consensus, and on Tuesday the quartet will be releasing its 15th album, appropriately titled "35."
"For a long time I would say, 'Let's just see if I can make it another year,'" Cahill says by telephone during a tour stop in New York City. "Then it was all about trying to find the gigs and make that happen. All of a sudden, I look up and its 35 years. I can't believe it."
As the lone original member of a band that's seen more than a few lineup changes, Cahill admits he does get a little weary of the road. But it's the fans and the friends he's met throughout his musical journey that, he says, keep him coming back to the stage.
"There's been ups and downs," says Cahill, who brings The Special Consensus to Three Oaks on Friday for a show at The Acorn Theater. "There's been some hard times, but I'm so grateful to all the people who have taken us in and given us a meal. It's like a great extended family in the world of bluegrass."
It's hard to believe that Cahill, who still lives in his native Chicago, ever played anything other than a banjo, but his musical education actually began when his grandfather taught him the harmonica. He also took accordion lessons and dabbled in the honky-tonk piano style of his mother before picking up the guitar in high school. By the time he went to college in Minnesota, he was playing in a folk trio.
"I had a six-string guitar and a 12-string guitar a la Pete Seeger," Cahill says. "Then I got one of the long banjos and started learning the Pete Seeger songs and Peter, Paul and Mary. Then the other guy in the band came in one Saturday and played the 'Foggy Mountain Banjo,' and our jaws dropped to the floor. It was the first time I heard Earl Scruggs, and it was unbelievable, so I said, 'I have got to do that.'"
After "going into the Army for a couple of years," Cahill went to graduate school at the University of Chicago and began experimenting with bluegrass with a handful of musicians, including Marc Edelstein, Jim Hale, Jeremy Raven and Jim Iberg.
"We started informally, slowing down records and dropping the needle to try to figure out how Earl was playing it," Cahill says.
"Earl Scruggs playing the banjo in that three-finger style - it just sounded like an orchestra. It was no longer strumming a little bit of melody. It was playing the melody and the drive of the music, the excitement, the energy, the whole package." Read more.
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