By Carol Morris Dukes
Bluegrass music is intrinsic to our area. Virginia natives have a long and storied relationship with that special sound that found its roots in our Celtic ancestors who originally populated the Appalachian regions of our country. In spite of that history and connection, mountain music, our regional “Roots” music, is not a genre with a mass following; least of all from the under 30’s crowd. But wait a minute, folks. We in Northern Virginia can run—but we can’t hide from our hillbilly legacy.
For those of you who’ve been following the music scene in western Loudoun, you’re already aware that old time fiddle music is making a comeback in our neck of the woods. In fact, our area is becoming a hot bed of musical talent with a new- old sound energized by young, talented musicians with a whole new appreciation for the mountain music of yore.
Melissa Wright of the Acoustic Burgoo exemplifies the young talent riding the tidal wave of this renaissance. She and band mates Ben Waters, Rudy Bzdyk and Eric Burnham have helped to bring mountain music back to our area with a swell of loyal fans. This band, like many in the area, are artistically diverse and play Bluegrass and fiddle tunes, as well as sultry folk songs and their own brand of Roots music.
A recent graduate of the prestigious Berklee School of music in Boston, Massachusetts, Melissa is sassy, smart and educated, but she’s holding back on getting a “real job” right now. Despite looming college loan payments, she really loves her music and is determined to make a living performing, even if it means she has to struggle financially for a while.
So, where, I want to know, did Melissa and her band mates find their inspiration? How did she come to love Bluegrass and fiddle music?
“It started when I was in high school and joined a Jazz band at Loudoun Valley High School and started hanging around friends that liked music. Then I discovered the [Old Furniture Factory] Bluegrass Jam Sessions in Round Hill. I loved the sound and wanted to learn more.” Melissa described seeing and hearing the band, Furnace Mountain for the first time and credits them as being a huge influence. Furnace Mountain is a local band that plays Appalachian Roots music whose members, Fiddlin’ Dave Van Deventer, Morgan Morrison, Danny Knicely and Aimee Curl have been playing together since the mid-nineties and are often credited with influencing young musicians. Melissa also felt drawn to the film “O Brother Where Art Thou” and their folksy music soundtrack.
Melissa’s primary instruments are mandolin and voice. Beautiful, sultry and clear, she credits her Berklee training for her very solid vocals. And at her commencement, she enjoyed singing background for guest Alison Krauss who performed “Down to the River to Pray” the hypnotic spiritual from “O Brother.”
Inspiration comes from outside the music realm as well. Melissa and many of her peers credit back- to- basics movements like Farmers Markets, Buy Local and Farm to Fork for fueling their musical tastes. Some identify with the push-back against corporate greed and consumerism and a desire to return to a simpler, uncomplicated life—close to our roots. When not performing, Melissa works at a local vegetable farm, where she gets satisfaction from working hard and seeing the fruits of her labor.
There are several other local acoustic bands in Loudoun and neighboring counties that are gathering a groundswell of followers. Most of the area Roots musicians know each other and frequently attend each other’s concerts and sometimes jam together. Often low on funds, they rely on each other to use social media to spread the word about upcoming shows.
The Acoustic Burgoo is no exception. Later this month they will be playing at Unistock, a weekend music festival in Round Hill with many of the area’s Bluegrass and fiddle bands performing outside where camping is encouraged. For those people not in the “loop”, these amazingly talented artists fly under the radar. The best way to see them perform is to follow their Facebook pages or visit their homegrown websites.
Local fiddle and Roots bands can be found at venues like Watermelon Park’s WatermelonFest, at occasional small shows at Shamrocks’s Music Shoppe in Old Town Purcellville, Beans in the Belfry in Brunswick, MD, and any number of cozy pubs in surrounding small towns.
To learn more about Unistock and upcoming appearances by the Burgoo, visit their website at www.theacousticburgoo.com. More information about local fiddle and Roots musicians follows. (As an added bonus, many of these performers are instructors at Shamrock Music Shoppe, on 21st Street in Old Town Purcellville)