Benefit concert series begins Friday at bluegrass museum

The 23 String Band will kick off the 2011 series of benefit concerts at the International Bluegrass Music Museum, 117 Daviess St., at 7 p.m. Friday.

So far this year, the museum has signed bands from England and Russia along with North Carolina and Tennessee-based bluegrass acts for the benefit concerts in the museum’s Woodward’s Theater.

“The 23 String Band is such a great band,” said Gabrielle Gray, the museum’s executive director. “They’re the best band to come out of Kentucky in a long time.”

Dave Howard, an Owensboro native, plays mandolin in the group.

The band’s website says it “pays homage to the deep roots of American traditional music, while pushing forward with genre-bending, hard-driving originals and distinctive arrangements.”

The site adds: “Their youthful brand of ‘original hillbilly music’ weaves in and out of old-time, bluegrass, acoustic roots and anything else that strikes their fancy — it’s not uncommon to hear a Beastie Boys cover by these boys.”

Gray said she saw the 23 String Band last year at the Master Musicians Festival in Somerset.

“They had hundreds of people up in front of the stage dancing,” she said. “I really want to get people up and dancing in Owensboro.”

The 23 String Band will return to play for the museum’s River of Music Party at Yellow Creek Park in June.

The Coal Porters, an English band based in London, will perform at the museum on Feb. 15.

Formed as an electric band in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, the Coal Porters relocated to England a few years later and began shifting its sound to acoustic — mixing folk, country and bluegrass.

By 2008, the band, led by Louisville native Sid Griffin, had started labeling itself as the “world’s first alt-bluegrass band.”

Griffin’s father, Gus Griffin, was born in Owensboro, and Sid Griffin comes back frequently to visit relatives.

On April 7, Town Mountain, an Asheville, N.C.-based band, will perform at the museum.

The band has been described as “a bridge between traditional bluegrass, outlaw country and old-time, with sounds reminiscent of Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, J.D. Crowe and Tony Rice.”

“That’s three progressive bands in a row,” Gray said.

But on April 23, the concert series turns to a traditional sound.

Patsy and Donna Stoneman, members of the legendary Stoneman Family, will perform. They’re being accompanied by bluegrass musicians Valerie Smith and Becky Buller.

The Stoneman Family was headed by Ernest “Pop” Stoneman, who began recording in 1914. The family had one of the top syndicated television shows of the 1960s.

Smith’s band, Liberty Pike, played the first benefit concert at the museum in 2009. Last year, Ernie Evans, her mandolin player, began promoting the museum benefits and lining up acts.

The 2010 series included James King, Kenny & Amanda Smith, Jack Hicks & Summertown Road and Jeff Burke & Vida Wakeman.

They all donated their services.

Gray said a bluegrass band from Russia is also planning a benefit concert at the museum, but the date hasn’t been set yet.

Tickets are $10 for each of the concerts. The theater seats only 85 to 100 people, so seating is limited.

For reservations, call the museum at  (270) 926-7891.

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