Bluegrass group entertains MAC series crowd

By Christopher K. Conner

Appearing at the Manhattan Arts Center as a part of the BirdHouse Music series, bluegrass band The Special Consensus played Saturday.

Composed of founding member Greg Cahill on banjo, Dan Eubanks on bass, Dustin Benson on guitar and Rick Faris on mandolin and guitar, the band recently released the 17th album of its nearly four decade history.

Anchoring the lineup, Cahill’s banjo was just what you’d expect from an experienced picker. Much of the time, the banjo was going somewhere and it was up to the other instruments and the audience to keep up.

Far from staying in the background, each performer proved he could take a turn leading. The usual hand off from one instrument to the next went smoothly and naturally as the lead passed around.

All four members contributed to the vocals, but most of the performance Rick Faris held lead vocals. Eubanks added bass vocals and Benson took his turn at lead vocals for a few of the tunes.

Venturing through a few traditional bluegrass tunes, a couple of a cappella songs and an instrumental version of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies,” The Special Consensus produced a highly entertaining show, heightened by the intimate venue. Throughout the sets, running gags about Cahill’s age and the search for a new mandolin player to replace the upstart Faris kept the audience laughing and contributed to the warm performance.

The new album “Country Boy: a Bluegrass Tribute to John Denver” provided a number of tunes for the two-hour performance. Notably, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Wild Montana Skies” were included. Cahill encouraged the audience to sing along with “Country Roads” and many took the opportunity.

The band also played a few tunes from its previous albums “35” and “Scratch Gravel Road” as well. They even took a couple of requests at intermission that they played in the second set.

When not poking fun at Cahill’s age, there were a number of jabs at the income of bluegrass banjo players. A musician looking for a big paycheck probably wouldn’t consider bluegrass in general and jokes aside, bluegrass is not a huge music market. It can be a lot of fun to attend a performance, even if you don’t rush out to buy a bunch of bluegrass songs for your play list.

Whether a fan of bluegrass, or simply willing to give it a try, I’d recommend catching The Special Consensus. It’s easy to have a good time watching and listening to their performance.

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