Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Dry Branch Fire Squad plays bluegrass close to its roots

SPRING LAKE — True bluegrass fans will admit there are precious few bands these days willing to play the music as it was meant to be — high and lonesome.

But for Ron Thomason, there really is no other way to do justice to a sound that calls for maximum soul and emotion.

Devoid of the slick sweetness of their contemporary bluegrass counterparts, it's easy to see why some listeners might dismiss the Dry Branch Fire Squad's raw and unvarnished sound as hard-core hillbilly. For Thomason, who plays mandolin with the group he founded 33 years ago, that's a compliment.

"We're an acquired taste," Thomason, 64, said by phone this week from his home in southern Indiana. "We play the kind of music we like and believe in. I'm not sure we could play anything else."

Drawing from the 200-year-old musical traditions of the southern Appalachians, the Dry Branch Fire Squad sound incorporates old-time and bluegrass sounds similar to what Thomason grew up listening to in the mountain region of southwest Virginia.

"We had a battery-powered radio, and we'd listen to WCYB in Bristol all day long, " Thomason recalled. "You'd hear great fiddle and banjo tunes, old-time ballads and gospel music from people like the Stanley Brothers, Dock Boggs, and Flatt and Scruggs. I couldn't help but like it."

As an adult, Thomason never stopped learning the music. A member of Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys during the early 1970s, he remembers listening to hours of old-time recordings on his boss' tour bus and making note of obscure songs he wanted to someday learn.

Dry Branch Fire Squad, which headlines an eight-band lineup at this weekend's Sertoma Youth Ranch Spring Bluegrass Festival, continues to attract new fans to its time-honored sound. At least part of that is due to Thomason's witty stage banter, which mixes stories and tales and cultural commentary that keeps audiences in stitches.

That the band's base continues to grow after 3 1/2 decades amazes Thomason, who at one time was certain his brand of bluegrass was fading.

"I think there will always be people who relate to this music," he said. "Most of the songs are based on reality. You take a song written during the Depression and sing it today; it still means the same. Those hard times don't ever go away for good."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1435.

If you go

The Sertoma Youth Ranch Spring Bluegrass Festival runs today through Sunday on Myers Road, off Spring Lake Highway, south of Spring Lake. Take the Dade City/County Road 41 exit off Interstate 75. Music performances are noon to 11 p.m. today and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Daily adult gate admission is $25 today, $30 Saturday and $12 Sunday. Admission for children 12 to 16 is $3 per day. Children under 12 are admitted free with an adult. Camping is available with weekend tickets. Adult weekend tickets are $50 at the gate. Call (352) 754-3082 or (478) 235-5504, or visit www.sertomayouthranch.com and click on "upcoming events."

Dry Branch Fire Squad plays bluegrass close to its roots 04/23/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 23, 2009 3:44pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Hillsborough Democrats call Confederate monument vote a continuation of white supremacy

    Blogs

    TAMPA — Two days after Hillsborough County commissioners decided not to touch a Confederate monument in downtown Tampa, Hillsborough County Democrats have decided to weigh in.

    On Friday afternoon, Hillsborough County Democrats decried a vote by the county commission not to remove the Confederate monument in downtown Tampa.
  2. For starters: Ramus to DL, Peterson back, no further moves

    Blogs

    We were expecting a flurry of roster moves this afternoon and we got one. OF Colby Ramus is on the 10-day disabled list retroactive to June 19 with left hip tendinitis.

    Colby Ramus is on the 10-day disabled list retroactive to June 19 with left hip tendinitis.
  3. Editorial: Failure to invest in transit means fewer HART routes

    Editorials

    It was simple economics that forced HART, Hillsborough County's mass transit agency, to cut its bus routes. The agency will focus its resources on the more crowded urban core, limiting service in the suburbs in an effort to get more bang for the buck. These are the hard choices communities must make when they refuse to …

    Hillsborough Area Regional Transit is cutting bus routes from 41 to 34. Those in more rural areas will find it harder to catch a bus.
  4. Editorial: Senate bill sacrifices health care for tax cuts

    Editorials

    No wonder Senate Republicans drafted their health care legislation in secret. Beneath the surface, it looks no better than the House version that even President Donald Trump has called mean. This remains a massive tax cut for the wealthy at the expense of the poor, the middle class and the elderly, and it would cost …

    No wonder Senate Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, above, drafted their health care legislation in secret. Beneath the surface, it looks no better than the House version that even President Donald Trump has called mean.
  5. UberEATS expands to more cities within Tampa Bay

    Business

    TAMPA — UberEATS is expanding its service area in Tampa Bay. Starting today, users in Gibsonton, Odessa, New Port Richey, Riverview and Tarpon Springs can have food dropped off at their location.

    UberEATS is expanding its service area in Tampa Bay. [Courtesy of UberEATS]