In the capable hands of David Grisman and his latest ensemble, the “Dawg Trio,” Bluegrass is an exciting and thriving art form, at once both classic and current, with a deep history as well as no end of contemporary relevance.
His current show, heard on November 16th & 17th at The Iridium, as well as his latest album, The Dawg Trio Plays Tunes and Sings Songs, opens with “Spud Boy”; Mr. Grisman explained that this was a dedication to his late partner, Jerry Garcia, who was nicknamed “Spud Boy,” much as Mr. Grisman’s own nickname has always been “Dawg.” (Unlike Garcia, however, Mr. Grisman used his nickman as part of what we would now call his “branding,” and even prefers to describe what he plays as “Dawg Music” rather than bluegrass.)
Mr. Grisman collaborated with Garcia in what is generally regarded as the latter’s most famous side project outside of the Grateful Dead, a combination that produced roughly ten albums, including the celebrated Shady Grove (1996).
Saturday’s early set at The Iridium revolved around on the repertoire from the latest album, spotlighting Mr. Grisman’s bouncy and supple original instrumentals, like “Spud Boy,” “Funky Plunky,” and “Razzle Dazzle.” Then there were several full on songs with lyrics, “Little Bitty Town” and “Money Moves Up,” which are mostly the work of the ever ebullient Danny Barnes, who accompanies Mr. Grisman on banjo and guitar, a lanky, drink of water who looks like a youngish Pete Seeger. The third member of the Dawg Trio is is the leader’s son, Samson Grisman, who choose his feature of “The Animal of Man” as a dedication to the brilliance of Roger Miller - and who put the idea into everyone’s head present that some club or concert hall should stage a whole evening of The Roger Miller Songbook.
Between such interpretations, traditional songs, and new originals, instrumentals and harmony, as well as fresh and lively “novelty tunes” (Mr. Grisman’s own term) like “Dawg on A String” and the ragtime-inspired “Lobster Roll,” it was a zingy and fast-moving evening. It concluded memorably with Mr. Grisman’s best known collaboration with Jerry Garcia, “Shady Grove,” for which they were joined by a fourth musician, guitarist Scott Law. Who says you can’t teach this 74-year-old “Dawg” some new tricks?