Written by Eric Sperrazza
When a band attempts to introduce a diametrically different genre of music to the masses, it could go either way: it could be a disaster or it could be a cultural paradigm shift!
The 2010s saw an unexpected rise in the popularity of folk and bluegrass thanks to innovators like Mumford & Sons and Old Crow Medicine Show. Suddenly, music that was synonymous with deep south moonshiners was all the rage at colleges and alternative rock music stations alike.
The bluegrass style became embraced by young musicians as far from American Southland as you could get, from Argentina up to Canada.
Although these artists embrace the style of Americana music and hillbilly regalia that echoes back to the Blue Ridge Mountains, truthfully, that is where the similarities end. Today’s folk and bluegrass music are less about bad decisions after drinking a mason jar of corn liquor with Sunday church for testimony in the morning. In some cases, it can even be dubbed “protest music.”
Enter the Dead South. Straight out of Saskatchewan, Canada, consisting of Nate Hilts (vocals/guitar/mandolin), Scott Pringle (guitar/mandolin/vocals), Danny Kenyon (cello/vocals), and Colton Crawford (banjo). Since 2012, the band has shown the world a new take on an age-old sound and created a hip-billy vibe for a new generation.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Hilts this week and asked him how he would come to embrace bluegrass in his hometown of Canada.
To that, he chuckled and said, “The thing about it is like you can’t say bluegrass and Saskatchewan, but you can definitely say MUSIC and Saskatchewan. A lot of Saskatchewan was kind of founded by, you know, immigrants coming over back in the day. And everyone kind of brought their own style of music and played the piano. I kind of did some growing up in Wadena, Saskatchewan. And there’s a lot of old dogs around there that play music from back in the day, just kind of old, you know, fiddle tunes, old country and stuff like that. But where the bluegrass kind of comes in is there is that new wave bluegrass revival that happened in like 2010.”
It wasn’t long before the Dead South truly broke out with the hit, “In Hell I’ll Be In Good Company,” off their first studio-produced album, In Good Company.
Hilts reminisced about what that time looked like saying, “So in like a two-year span, we started growing from just playing at home to playing all over the place, which was great,” he began. “Then we recorded our next studio album, Illusion and Doubt. Then that video for ‘In Hell I’ll Be in Good Company’ started going nuts. So then, that also gave us a good fit into a lot of other markets, which we hadn’t even considered stepping into yet because we didn’t think anyone knew who we were.”
Recently, the Dead South released a double album called Easy Listening For Jerks Pt. 1 & 2. A complete cover project, it includes the Dead South‘s interpretation of everything from classic bluegrass songs like “You Are My Sunshine” all the way through to rock and alternative classics that inspired the band like “People Are Strange” by The Doors and even “Chop Suey” by System of a Down fame. Part One has a classic style cover, akin to buying an old Kentucky Colonels record, whereas, Part Two is a clear homage to Rancid’s …And Out Come The Wolves.
The Dead South delivers a visual representation of both the dichotomy of the styles of covers and yet they hold it all together like a perfect amalgam. “Both EPs are covers. We’ve never done a cover album before!” said Hilts. “Part One is all traditional songs we kind of made our own and Part Two is specifically songs we grew up listening to like rock, punk, and alt stuff.”
The Dead South is currently on both a North American tour and a European tour, this year, and will be making a stop at the Fillmore in Philadelphia tomorrow night.
Hilts explained the wide variety of people in their audience. “You are going to get a variety of people from kids to 80-year-olds to metalheads to punks in the audience! We are really excited to come out to Philly. We know that people are coming out for a night off. So, let’s have a good time together and forget about life, for a little while.”
Indeed, more than a few people will be spending their night off in attendance for the aforementioned Philly show, and maybe, in the chaos of the daily news cycles, we will find together, that all we needed was a little banjo in our lives to forget about life for a bit.
The Dead South performs at the Fillmore in Philadelphia tonight at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $28.00 and you can still find tickets here.
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