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Modern music has almost eliminated the boundaries between genres, and that is no different for Shadowgrass, who brought their own Bluegrass melting pot to the Yadkin Cultural Arts Center's Willingham Theater. Comprised of Madison Morris (fiddle and vocals), Luke Morris (mandolin and vocals), Kyser George (guitar), Clay Russell (banjo), and Evan Campfield (bass), the group opened with a few typical bluegrass numbers to set the tone. But by the third song, "Rain and Snow," the band had already begun to delve into their repertoire of tricks. Starting with a formless, psychedelic introduction, "Rain and Snow" eventually settled into its bluesy groove. I also noticed the use of the effects pedals sitting in front of each player on stage, which would normally cause me to roll my eyes, but that was before I heard a banjo put through a phaser pedal. Suddenly, a phase shifter went from something annoying to something completely fresh to me. The same could be said for the effects that the other Shadowgrass members utilized, especially in the case of George, who made his acoustic guitar sound nothing like itself a number of times throughout their set. The most important thing, though, is that these effects were not overused in the slightest. In the case of pedals, it is very easy to create something that sounds a bit like a twelve-year-old in Guitar Center. Shadowgrass, however, effectively navigated the precarious balance between the power of these pedals and the responsibility that comes with using them. Making them work in bluegrass music is even more impressive.
In addition to the technical elements of their performance, Shadowgrass provided a unique concert experience just through the sheer number of styles they performed. There were plenty of breakneck Bluegrass songs, but there were also some Hall & Oates, Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Gnarls Barkley covers. They were not simple copies of these songs, either, but rather Shadowgrass interpretations of them. Their cover of the Tedeschi Trucks Band's "Midnight in Harlem" stood out the most, as it was the most spacious song of the night. Whereas the rest of their set allowed them to flex their chops and showcase their virtuosity through their solos, "Midnight in Harlem" challenged each members' ability to craft melodies in their playing. Although it was a complete shift in tone, it functioned as a breath of fresh air in the middle of their set before transitioning back into their more standard work.
The best part of the night, however, was simply being an audience member. Shadowgrass is one of the only genuinely funny bands I can remember ever seeing. Between songs, they spent a noticeable amount of time tuning their instruments, which can quickly become distracting and off-putting. But the group made a joke out of it after the first few songs, and it became a running gag throughout the entire set. Another running joke was that Russell has spiritual connections to animals that speak to him from the afterlife. Or maybe it wasn't a joke. They did play two songs that supposedly came to Russell from the great beyond: "Flat Trudy" and "Carl's Breakdown." Trudy being the flattened lizard the band found in the green room before the show, and Carl being the real turtle that became the band's mascot before he was stolen (and is now immortalized in the form of a sticker on the laptop I'm using to write this). Both of which presented the melodies of their respective requiems to Russell through visions. I have heard stranger stories, honestly.
These are the things that make a great concert. I would have been happy to just sit and listen to the music of Shadowgrass, as it stands perfectly fine on its own. Seeing the pure joy that the five members shared onstage, though, amplified their performance tenfold. Feeling that joy surge through each member of the audience made this one of the more memorable concerts I have experienced. Even if you do not care for Bluegrass music, you cannot deny the power of its community. Shadowgrass may not always stick strictly to traditional Bluegrass, but they are carrying on all of those values that still make it worthwhile. Most importantly, they teach us that Carl and Trudy are part of all of us – forever.