Flats & Sharps are back from the US of A and settling back into reality, although a little begrudgingly it must be said...
We have just finished picking up the pieces of our blown, bluegrass soaked minds. Although bending down to pick up the pieces was slightly harder than usual is, must be admitted, the food we ate over there has left our belts a smidgen tighter!
Where to start?!? The beginning would be appropriate.
It being our first time as a band going across the pond, we decided to mark the occasion. We arrived in London and proceeded to find the nearest steak house (of course) and started as we meant to go on: all out! We giggled like school children and stuffed our faces whilst the reality set in that we were actually going to be taking our F&S brand bluegrass to America! Coal to Newcastle anyone?
By now we are veterans of long haul flights, so the journey wasn't too taxing and the nervous energy and anticipation was enough to conquer the jet lag. After we settled in and reached the "where" stage of human hunger evolution (1- how to eat, 2- what to eat, 3- where to eat) we found what would become our regular fine munching establishment - shout out to Jimmy V's! - and had our first taste of American cuisine & what a flinkin taste! Those that know F&S know that it is rare to see a plate that has not been licked clean but those that know the US will know that portions over there are biblical, it is fair to say we were defeated!
After exploring the great city of Raleigh, we headed to the Lincoln Theatre to see what was billed as a Grammy-winning surprise and were blown away by a banging show from Rhonda Vincent & The Rage. This set the tone for things to come - epic bluegrass played at the top level around every corner and seeping from every nook & cranny. Wherever you went, the musicianship and singing was epic, a fact that became a little intimidating when we remembered that we were to be playing on the same bill as a lot of these guys!
Our first showcase was on Tuesday at the Architect Bar at an evening hosted by the super lush guys from La Roche Bluegrass Festival. We played with the awesome Jake Moore on the banjo. He is an amazing musician, super sound guy and so chilled. We didn't play a single note with him before we kicked off the first song and he smashed the whole set! It was a slightly nervous experience for us as, again, F&S' FIRST FLINKIN TIME PLAYING IN THE U.S!!!!! But we loved every second of it and had an amazing response. We came off stage with a buzz that didn't leave us all week.
We played 3 further showcases, 1 Moore with Jake & 2 with top gangsta Sawyer Whitman. Sawyer is a magnificent banjo player with a magnificent beard and magnificent vibe. We again had no practice time with him before the first showcase we played with him at Kings and he smashed it like a boss! We loved and rocked the flink out every show (coz we're legends) and really can't say enough to thank Jake & Sawyer, such amazing dudes, brilliant players and a real pleasure to share a stage with. We are certain it will not be the last time we will team up to create a banging F&S Bluegrass Megazord!
We played the last 2 showcases in the Rye Bar & room 304.
A huge shout out and thank you to the Folk Alliance guys & Lorraine Jordan and her Truegrass crew for giving us the chance to play on their stages. Really kind, genuine, generous & talented people.
The rest of the week was spent in the trades fair and soaking up the bluegrass vibrations around the city. We were supremely well fed and very well oiled by the complete and beautiful flower that is Matt the Barman at the Rye Bar. We will forever be truly, madly and deeply in love with that man.
At the weekend the whole city turned into a massive bluegrass street festival. Absolute cloud 9 for anyone into bluegrass and utter heaven for F&S! There was street food galore and nutty characters. Mikey & Tom Nechville had an impromptu curbside jam with a street preacher who they decided needed a bit of rhythm whilst he was hollering at all of the damned souls...
The vibe is bangin, the people super welcoming & the music, the music, the music the music what can we say? BANGIN is the word that keeps popping up.
The festival shows were an incredible experience for us. To have the chance to see the acts that we spend all year watching on youtube play live was humbling and mind blowingly cool.
Michael Cleveland (now 11 time IBMA fiddle player of the year!) & Flamekeeper were a lesson in HOLY BALLS THOSE GUYS CAN PLAY. We spent the whole set wide eyed with mouths hanging open.
The Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder show was really special for us. It felt as if the entire set was written just for us. All of the tunes we hoped they would play, they did and Mr Skaggs gave a example of how a true music legend holds a crowd. Words can not describe the epicness of this show. No dry eyes for the F&S boys by the end of that set!
We met so many incredible people and found out the truth of the southerners reputation for warmth and hospitality. Those guys sure can pick, cook and pour a drink! The weather was glorious, the taxi drivers were odd & the city of Raleigh will now always feel like a second home for F&S. It was awesome to see some friendly familiar faces in the land of the free. Good Vibrations to see the UK & Irish contingent representing - We spent some quality time with our friends from Midnight Skyracer, The Vanguards, Cup O'Joe & Jig Jam. Such flinkin legends! Mikey had the opportunity to reunite his beloved Moon Beam Mandolin, Luna, with its top gangsta Ma & Pa - Glenn & Bobbie Robertson. They are amazing people & we know that cool things will come from this pond-spanning partnership.
As we were a little nervous about taking instruments through customs, we were absolutely blessed with kindness when it came to borrowing a Double Bass and guitar for the week. A huge thank you to Dana Bourgeois for letting Josh one of his fabulous made guitars (owned by Courtney Hartman), and at such short notice. I cannot express how amazing these hand-built guitars are and it was good to play a Brazilian Rosewood one, as they’re near impossible to find in the UK.
A few final thank yous would be to Eddie Huffman on the IBMA Board, who stuck with us through the year as our Visa application was declined in 2017 so our showcase place was held for another year. Last big thank you to the PRS Foundation who awarded us with an International Showcase Fund grant for our trip, without these guys, it would’ve been near impossible for us to get over the pond, so our endless thanks to them.
Now we are back, we have more drive than ever. We have taken in some amazing experiences, witnessed some smashing shows, and played with some top gangsta musicians. We have absorbed all of these vibes like a fresh and enthusiastic sponge so keep your eyes and ears pealed and pricked for what will ooze out of us in the months to come.
Peace, Love & Good Vibrations!