The Duhks are coming to Madison!

The legendary Duhks, one of the truly revolutionary string bands, come to Madison January 11 in a rare small-venue performance.

No, the name is not misspelled. The Duhks are one of the legendary alt-string bands to emerge in the past 20 years or so, where they took old-time music traditions, merged them with classical virtuosity from years of training, added the energy of the jazz or rock, and turned the acoustic music world on it's ear. Some of most exciting music of the "alt-bluegrass" scene was made by bands like Crooked Still, the Mammals, and the Duhks themselves. The first two are now defunct, but the Duhks live on, with their original lineup. Usually associated with major festivals, it's rare to see the Duhks at a small, intimate venue, like the one at the North Madison Congregational Church's Fire In The Kitchen concerts series. 

The whole concept of "alt-bluegrass" or "new-wave chamber" started about 30-40 years ago, when, during the "folk craze", college students started re-discovering American string band music from the south. Students around the country started playing the music, and soon formed two distinct camps. One was the laid-back festival circuit and dance band group, where the musicians tried to sound and feel exactly like the string bands of old, with players moving down south and learning directly from the few remaining masters, like Tommy Jarrell and Wade Ward. The students formed bands like "The Correctones" or "Highwoods String Band", great jam/party/festival type bands that were at the same time rough-sounding, but truly authentic in their approach. Out of this cam players like Jay Ungar and Bruce Molsky.

The other group was a bit more serious-minded. They were trained classically, and had phenomenal skills compared to the original masters and the "jam/dance" band group. Most importantly, they liked to show off their skills in the context of traditional music, and, while performing many of the same songs, injected an almost chamber music sensitivity. Performers from this group include David Grisman, Mike Marshall, Mark O'Connor, and Darol Anger. Eventually, this group was even able to draw in true classical musicians into their fold, performing and recording with the likes of Yo Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, and Edgar Meyer. 

Time passed on, and the music evolved even further, and now the youngest of the new-wave players are graduates of cobservatories like Juillard, the New England Conservatory, and Berklee, where "alternative string" programs are now part of the cirriculum. The leading lights of this later period, where the technique and virtuosity are simply stunning, are players like Natalie and Brittany Haas, Rushad Eggleston, Mike Block, Lauren Rioux, Hanneke Cassel, Laura Cortese, Chris Thile, and so on. 

From ths later period came groups like Crooked Still, the Mammals, Nickel Creek, and the Duhks, with only the Duhks surviving. New groups are constantly forming, and one constant of the newer players is that they're relentlessly searching for their latest and best sound. They constantly push the limits of their skill and creativity. 


I'll get 3-4 demo cd's a year from certain artists, and each are superb, but different from each other. By the time I've reached them and try to book a show with them and their band on one cd, they've already abandoned that group and are on to another. Not great for a career move, but from a musical standpoint, it's easy to see where the next great American chamber music composers are coming from. They may not be there quite yet, but before long, it'll be a whole new tradition. Will the classical community embrace or shun them? You never know, but as with any community, there are the wlecoming ones and the stand-off-ish ones. We'll see. In the meantime, catch the last of the revolutionary bands, the Duhks, at the North Madison Congregational Church on January 11

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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