Soggy Bottom Boys
Carolina Theatre, Durham
Wednesday, July 5, 2017

“I’ll admit we did have a few problems with the law, but since they legalized a few things in Tennessee, the Soggy Bottom Boys are back in business” exclaimed Stuart Duncan, fiddler and founding member of the group. Earlier this summer, The Soggy Bottom Boys are out on the road bringing the critically acclaimed songs from the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? to the stage, as well as many other songs in the same spirit, casting a new spotlight on the entire genre of bluegrass and old-time music.

Just as the soundtrack from the film served as a beginner course in bluegrass music for many people around the world, the set list this evening reflected choice selections that could hook a new listener in person. Barry Bales, Ron Block, Mike Compton, Stuart Duncan, Pat Enright, and Dan Tyminski—all bluegrass veterans in their own right—moved through a two-set performance that started a bit slow as the crowd, perhaps worn out from the Fourth of July weekend, filled up the Carolina Theatre. Regardless, the group showed effortless instrumental and vocal precision, starting with Pat Enright yodeling right out of the gate on a chugging version of “In the Jailhouse Now.” Stuart Duncan’s sharp fiddle cuts on “Sally Goodin” and Ron Block’s lightning-fast banjo licks on “Cumberland Gap” played so quickly that Dan Tyminski referred to it as the “autobahn” version of the song to much crowd laughter.

For me, the highlights from the show didn’t come till the second set as vocalist Tyminski took his turn singing the traditional waltz-ballad “Down in the Willow Garden (Rose Connelly),” an exceptional entry among the many murder ballads in bluegrass music. Tyminski turned in an excellent version of the song while mandolinist Mike Compton led a version of Bill Monroe’s “Honky Tonky Swing” that was so great one could easily picture Pappy O’Daniel himself, the delightfully corrupt local official from the film, high- stepping his way across the Carolina Theatre stage in approval. The group closed with the expected “Man of Constant Sorrow” before returning to the stage to encore with a scorching version of “Angeline the Baker,” which had the entire crowd clapping along. You can watch video selections from the set below.

Soggy Bottom Boys, “Down In The Willow Garden (Rose Connelly)”

YouTube video