Byron Berline Band
Santa Monica, California
March 18, 2011
You knew this wasn’t going to be a typical night of bluegrass when you saw the drum kit on the cozy confines of the stage at McCabes. But then, Byron Berline isn’t your typical bluegrass player. He might have started out playing with Bill Monroe in the late 60’s, but by the early 70’s he’d spent time playing with Dillard & Clark, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas, California, and many others, with guest appearances on recordings like The Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed. He moved from Southern California to Guthrie, Oaklahoma in 1995 to open a music shop and music room, and put together The Byron Berline Band. Berline hadn’t played at McCabes in many years, but back in the 70’s, it was like a second home to him, and this was a night of reminisces about previous performances.
The band came out firing on all cylinders, with Berline playing twin fiddle with Greg Burgess, and letting the band take short solos, which set the theme for the night. Berline’s a personable sort of fellow, sharing the spotlight throughout the night with the band. The first musician introduced this evening was his long time banjo playing friend, John Hickman, who Berline first met at McCabes in 1971, and on the next tune, he let Hickman spotlight his amazing play skills. The lead vocals were shared between acoustic bassist Richard Sharp and guitarist Jim Fish, with Berline joining in on harmonies and the occasional lead vocal. The set went from original instrumental pieces like “Cricket” and “Cherokee Bell” to some unexpected cover songs like The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” and the Monkeys ‘Last Train To Clarksville”, which finished up the hour long first set.
The second set again ran the gauntlet, with Berline’s homage to his home state, “My Oklahoma,” a take on “Over the Rainbow” titled “Somewhere Over the Fiddlebow,” some Western Swing on “Back In the Saddle Again,” an unusual but effective version of the Beatles “Norwegian Wood,” and a less successful attempt on the Yardbirds “Heart Full of Soul.” The show closed with the gospel song “I Saw the Light” where everyone, including drummer Steve Short, got to solo. The band’s encore was a rousing take on Berline’s signature piece “Sally Goodin.” It was one of those wonderfully entertaining evenings of music by a group of musicians who love doing what they do. [www.thebyronberlineband.com]
—Jim Lee (Simi Valley, CA)