Bluegrass band to return
July 3, 2007
The way guitarist Ian McNeil tells it, the first date Lo-Fi Breakdown ever booked was Randy Barton’s show on Park City Television.
The band had just gotten together after the 2002 Olympics and they didn’t have a name McNeil recalls. Someone in the band was campaigning for "Wasatch Mountain Breakdown," but the rest of the band members weren’t quite convinced.
Minutes before going on the air, the band was scrambling to engineer their own sound system a skill they hadn’t quite mastered, according to McNeil The band members joked that they were sure the audience was going about to hear the crackle and pop sound of low-fidelity recordings. Roughly 10 minutes to show time and the band had decided on their name.
"It was not intended in the least, but the name [Lo-Fi Breakdown] ended up fitting us in a weird way," observed McNeil "A lot of the older bluegrass music we try to emulate is recorded in low fidelity, with multiple musicians playing to one microphone. It’s that sort of old traditionalist style of performing."
Lo-Fi Breakdown will return to play two gigs at the Spur Bar and Grill tonight, and again on Thursday for Mountain Town Stages at Quarry Village. The band members left in Park City in 2003 for Ashville, North Carolina, one of the legendary bluegrass centers of the United States. The handful of remaining members look forward to their homecoming, however, the band is grateful to Ashville for its thriving music scene.
"Ashville is really intense there’s a ton of bluegrass around here and a whole slew of bands that are really competitive and really good," McNeil said. "Ashville is where it all started and there are musicians here who play bluegrass for the love of it, and don’t play for money."
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An intimidating scene to break into and a far cry from the comparatively sparse bluegrass culture in Utah, Lo-Fi Breakdown has been dogged about getting their foot into doors at Ashville venues and are finally beginning to get a bit of notoriety, McNeil reports. "You just keep calling club owners, keep trying to get in, and it forces you to get better," he says.
When McNeil puts on an old demo CD the band made when they first moved to Ashville, he says can hear the difference. "We’ve progressed a lot we’ve had to get better to compete out here," he reflects. "But there’s always more work to be done you can always get better it’s always a work in progress. And that’s what being around all these amazing musicians out here really shows."
McNeil says most importantly, Lo-Fi Breakdown band members have become better listeners or "grinners," as they say in bluegrass. They respect the more conservative culture that now surrounds them in Ashville, and get inspired by the likes of Gillian Welch, David Rollings and the town’s local bands. They may play rock and roll covers, but they base their style on 1940s and 1950s bluegrass greats Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and others among the first fleet of bluegrass musicians. "We can’t stand the new stuff the ‘new grass’ it just doesn’t hold that same sort of energy in our opinion," he says. "We like the old stuff."
Leading the group with what McNeil calls the most advanced bluegrass ear in Lo-Fi Breakdown, is the band’s vocalist and mandolin player John Miller. While most of the young members of the band grew up on hip hop and rock ‘n roll, Miller, who grew up in North Carolina, was privy to the vintage southern sound Lo-Fi Breakdown attempts to recreate.
Miller’s 85-year-old grandfather, Jim Shumate, played fiddle with many of the bluegrass greats like the Blue Grass Boys and Monroe, and still has performances left within him. In fact, just last weekend Shumate joined Lo-Fi at a show in Longview, North Carolina.
"He was there when bluegrass was just forming and it’s really a great honor to be able to play with him," Miller said. "He likes the band especially our female fiddle player [Natalya Weinstein] and is really supportive of us."
Miller adds that he is surprised the band has achieved the amount of success it has at festivals and theatres across the country especially since all continue to hold full-time jobs. Already the band has shared a stage with mandolin superstar Sam Bush and the legendary Robert Earl Keen.
A small group might remember Lo-Fi Breakdown from when they played at the Spur or perhaps recognize a few faces that worked at Dolly’s Bookstore or taught at the Colby School. Band members have fond memories of the community and look forward to their arrival this week. Some, like Miller, have not been back for three and a half years when he worked for Black Diamond Equipment in Salt Lake.
"We were all in love with the Utah landscape. It’s definitely been a trial to be away," said McNeil "Looking back now, I really don’t know how good we were when we played [at Salt Lake’s O’Shucks and Park City’s J.B. Mulligans], but people were really supportive of us out there. Utah was a hard place to leave."
Catch Lo-Fi Breakdown tonight, Tuesday, July 3 at 9 p.m. at The Spur Bar and Grill, and again on Thursday, July 5 at 5 p.m. at Quarry Village’s Mountain Town Stages venue.
For details about Lo-Fi Breakdown, visit http://www.lofibreakdown.com.