The Gibson Brothers bring bluegrass to the mainstream

Hailed by the New York Times as “Bluegrass Superstars,” the Gibson Brothers will usher their brand of bluegrass to the O’Keefe Auditorium at 2 p.m. on Feb. 11, as part of the Nashua Community Concert Association’s ongoing concert series.

Hailing from the Nashville area, the Gibson Brothers – Eric and Leigh – have won numerous awards and are on tour in support of their latest album, “In The Ground.” The band (five in total) continues to stretch bluegrass into the 21st century while keeping one foot firmly planted in the past. Just don’t call them a music hybrid.

“Yeah, I don’t think of us as a hybrid,” Leigh said. “We’re not a cover band, and there seems to be cannon of bluegrass music, where folks gather together to play tunes that were written and recorded 50 years ago. We certainly know that material. There is a common language in bluegrass that people sort of jam to at festivals or house parties. They get together and there is a common set of tunes that they play.”

In the Gibson Brothers’ case, a big part of their niche stems from their near flawless aptitude for writing.

“That’s a big part of what we do is write, sort of tell our own story through our bluegrass band,” Leigh said. “We grew up in Northern New York on a dairy farm – we sing about that experience, about our lives, about our history.”

And while the listener – avid or amateur – might think of “Man of Sorrow,” or “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” when they think of bluegrass music, “that’s not exactly what we do,” Leigh said.

Call it bluegrass chic.

“Parts of the music appeal to different people for different reasons,” Leigh continued. “I see an awful lot of young people who have picked up the music in the last 10 years or so. I find that it’s the instrumental side of things that really appeal to them.”

While some younger enthusiasts can cite R.E.M’s “Losing My Religions'” intricate mandolin picking, Leigh sees the Gibson Brothers in a different light.

“There are some incredible students attending the Berkeley School of Music in Boston – they have a bluegrass program. Being from northeast, I run into a lot of those players, and it blows my mind how technically good they are. They’re just great. Because the music traditionally has had an improvisational side to it, when you’re turn comes to play a solo, the technical ability of bluegrass musicians is stellar and I think that appeals to these young people.”

Bluegrass music’s rise is hallmarked by the real experience – both on stage and seated in a theatre.

“I do see a lot of people that really are drawn to the improvisational instrumental part of it.” Leigh said. “The jamming aspect of it – you can play a solo on the record, and when you play a show live, you might take two solos and they’re nothing like the record. The moment exists on stage. … But there does seem to be a great growth in bluegrass music right now in that part of the music – the exploratory, the jam-band scene, the string band jam band scene is really taking off right now. It’s not exactly what we do, but that part of the music is really growing, and I don’t know what to attribute that to. I think our culture likes to be entertained differently, constantly, and I think that comes back to the thing I’m holding right now, the cell phone; the ability to go on Facebook and see 100 different things in 20 minutes. Maybe that is why the music scene is growing, because everything changes all the time. The style of string band music changes all the time.”

For most fans and the Gibson Brothers, Leigh doubts bluegrass will ever go away.

“I don’t think the traditional form of bluegrass music will ever disappear. We do what we do, differently than anybody else, and I think that’s why we’ve been around for a long time and show no signs of ever going away,” he said, adding, “Just because we’ve sort of made a place for ourselves, based on our own story and based on our own style of the music.”

Geographically speaking, Leigh adds that location also blends and lends itself to fans accordingly.

“From my experience, it’s very good that way,” Leigh said. “We play all over the country. And for bluegrass, I see it maintaining a stronger presence in the Northeast, this form of music that we play. I don’t think people up here take it for granted as much as they might be able to in the Southeast for example. That historically was such a part of their culture. It’s not looked at in quite the same light that if there’s a really great band that comes to the New England from some bluegrass, there’s always going to be more excitement because it’s not from here.”

Leigh also said that since the music didn’t originate in New England – he likens it to folk music, “People in New England can recognize something, because they’re not necessarily from where it originated.”

“In Appalachia, and if they’re from that region, they might not see how special it is. It’s just part of their culture. I know a lot of my friends have bands out of the south, and they’re always impressed and surprised at how great the Northeast fan is.”

Which brings us back to the Gibson Brothers, doing what they love most: performing.

“We have tried to make every show an event,” Leigh said. “I don’t know if that’s intentional. We try to have everybody walk away from a show feeling like they saw something that they’re never going to see again or didn’t see before. We don’t have a scripted show. We don’t have a set list. We have a wealth of music from the years that we’ve been playing to draw from. And, we try to make people understand that we’re very happy that they’re there.”

George Pelletier may be reached at gpelletier3@gmail.com.