While sitting at Noa-Noa coffeeshop in Golden, Colorado I heard a terrific contemporary bluegrass band come over the speakers, Crooked Still. I asked the barista (who is himself a musician, prone to paying the bluegrass guitar on his breaks) about the group, and found out they’re from Cambridge, Massachusetts. What is it about roots groups, that they’re from the cities and the college towns? Allison Krause is from Champaign, Illinois, not far from where I grew up–and while central Illinois certainly has his pockets of rural authenticity, the hometown of the University of Illinois ain’t one of them. And Iris DeMent lived in LA and went to Berklee School of Music and Iris DeMent lived in Orange County and Radney Foster went to University of the South, a toney private college. Nowadays we don’t learn from the backwoods masters, I guess, because there aren’t many backwoods to go around. It’s like Mick Jagger being a bluesman. People who really live in rural areas don’t usually know how to work the business end of things, which has gone so corporate–maybe that’s what takes the real training. Or maybe we just feel that we have to have a degree now to really play (or write, says the professor me). So back to Crooked Still: the band is terrific, particularly the strings (cello & violin & banjo). The banjo player, said the barista, got his doctorate at MIT, and this apparently is true, as he calls himself “Dr. Gregory Liszt” on the official bio. The lead girl singer, Aiofe O’Donovan has a voice that is almost too sweet and thin for me (like K.T. Tunstall & the like), but that’s saved by the actual musicianship that goes along with it. O’Donovan and her husband, bassist (as in: upright double bassist) Corey DiMario, met at New England School of Music, a conservatory. “There’s so much going on in Boston,” enthused our barista, “and it’s authentic!”
The last time I was at Noa-Noa a threesome sat down in the back and just started jamming at five in the afternoon. I love it when you can go to a place like Golden, which is home to the School of Mines, and suddenly kickass music breaks out in a little tucked away coffeeshop in a strip mall.
I love Colorado coffeeshops.