The crowd last night at Cervantes brought their dancing shoes for a bluegrass breakdown. The Shwillbilles were up first, and the quartet came out fast and furious building the energy up for the intimate crowd with intricate banjo and mandolin solos and beautifully harmonized vocals. The band warmed up the crowd nicely for the acts that followed.
Oakhurst, a well known presence in Denver previously known for its heavily influenced bluegrass and acoustic sound. Since the departure to Nashville of their banjo player, Zach Daniels, this past fall, the band has taken on a new and electrifying sound. With the departure of Daniels, Oakhurst coincidentally imported an electric guitarist from Music City whom they regularly fly in for shows.
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With Daniel Walker in tow, the band treated the crowd to its evolving sound. Walker's slide guitar playing merges the bluegrass sound with country and southern rock. Think: Mofro meets mando or blue(s)grass. Walker and guitarist, Adam Hill, led the band in a fast-paced and magnetic rendition of Ryan Adams and David Rawlings's "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)," leaving the unfamiliar in the crowd to wonder whether the song was a cover or another amazing Oakhurst original.
Those already witsful for the good old days were treated to a guest appearance by Daniels, who was in from Nashville. His time on stage was spent exhibiting his fast paced banjo playing while dueling with his old cohorts, Hill and mandolin player Max Paley. At one point, it seemed, the other musicians on stage formed a circle around the three instrumentalists. The five-piece rounded out its set with an energetic rendition of "Honey," by Zebra Junction, intertwined with Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make me Feel," goosing the dance party already in progress.
The calypso-inflected sounds of Leftover Salmon filled the room during the first notes of Great American Taxi's set. Vince Herman, Salmon's guitarist and leading man, fronts this outfit, which also features keyboardist Chad Staehly, whose voice, interestingly, recalls that of Herman's bandmate, Drew Emmitt, Leftover's mandolin and fiddle player. Staehly drifted back and forth between jamming the Hammond and tickling the ivories throughout the set, while swooning the crowd with his vocals. For his part, guitarist Jim Lewin tantalized the room with soaring guitar solos, while Herman wowed the crowd with flavorful renditions of favorites like "Fuzzy Little Hippie Girl."
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I have seen several of these bands go through transitions in their careers and can say that right now, they are both at a high point. Random Detail: For some reason, a multitude of concert-goers thought that glow sticks and LED lights would be appropriate for a low-key bluegrass show... By the Way: There was a street vendor outside with various foodstuffs and a space for both the band's merchandise and a young lady selling jewelry and hula hoops inside, creating a more festival-like feel.