Merchants of freeform bluegrass: Jason "Fil" Pate, mandolin; Nathanial "Tug" Winthrop, Dobro and vocals; Tony Caruso, guitar and vocals; Brian Lane, upright bass; and Fred Donovan, guitar and vocals.
Formed: July 2006
A Tampa institution: Pickford Sundries named their band after a long-defunct shop that still bears the skeletal remains of a pink storefront on Hillsborough Avenue, just west of Armenia. "I've been in Tampa since '89, back when it was open," says Winthrop. "I liked the quaintness of the place and the folks who ran it. I kind of thought it fit us — obsolete and sort of hanging in there. It's also the cheapest billboard in town."
Originals vs. covers: "Depends on the night," responds Donovan. "Sometimes we play a whole set of pretty much originals. Sometimes we mix it up. … We get into some jazzy progressions. The idea is that we start out with that chord structure and then, on top of that, build whatever we want to and it's whatever we do on that night. You never know what's going to happen when we start."
New CD: Their self-titled debut LP comes out in December.
Skipping across many lawns: When it comes to influences and who they cover, the guys go beyond bluegrass. They name everyone from Peter Rowan and Bill Monroe to Bob Dylan, Miles Davis and Led Zeppelin. Their backgrounds are just as diverse. "Brian, Tug and I played together in River Cove Ramblers," says Caruso of his previous band, which, incidentally, also got is name from a Tampa landmark. "Tug and Fred went to school together. We're all three engineers."
Donovan: "Tug and I went to Georgia Tech. We graduated 13 years ago. My wife was friends with Tony and his friends at USF … about 15 years ago?"
Caruso: "Twenty! Ironically, I met Tug through work, not through that connection. The other connection would be the Bluegrass Parlor Band — Jeff Jones and Tom Henderson. Tom plays music on WMNF. They had a 35-year-old establishment and Jeff helped us find Jason. … He had put a note on their bulletin board."
Pate: "I was making calls to see who plays bluegrass in the area. … I went down there and jammed with them one night. I just wrote 'seeking bluegrass,' and now look what happened."
Winthrop: "It's a tragic story. … Jason is one of the better musicians in the band. He has a wide range of influences and brings all types of stuff. We call it going down the rabbit hole with Jason."
Other previous bands: Brian Lane played bass for Slobberbone, a successful international-touring, alt-country band from Texas. Donovan performed in the straight bluegrass band, the Dog River Boys (1998-2005). Pate, from western North Carolina, learned the traditional form in one of its birthplaces.
How do you balance personal life and music? "You're going to need another notebook!" Winthrop said.
Hear them: 9 p.m. Friday at Smoke Barbeque & Grill, 901 W Platt St., Tampa (813) 254-7070. Free. myspace.com/pickfordsundries.