Everyone is trying to start the new year off on the right foot, and that includes the members of the bluegrass band Special Consensus.
For about 25 years they have been starting their concert calendar with Front Porch Music in Valparaiso. In 2022, this show will take place on January 8th.
“We’re all trying to support the independent retailers and music stores that teach and promote acoustic music,” said Greg Cahill, who co-founded Special Consensus in 1975.
“It’s not that big. Most of the people who come have been coming for many years. It’s also usually our first show of the new year, so it’s really nice because it has this really intimate setting and atmosphere. That just puts us in a good spot. It’s like picking with your friends in your living room.”
Front Porch Music, which describes itself as a picker’s paradise, offers concerts and open stages as well as instruments, a repair workshop and music lessons.
Special Consensus began performing at the venue when then-guitarist Marty Marrone was working there and have continued kicking off the concert year at Front Porch Music annually except in 2021 when shows were temporarily canceled due to coronavirus containment measures.
The upcoming concert marks the first time that the newest members of Special Consensus – guitarist Greg Blake, who joined in January 2021, and mandolin player Michael Prewitt, who joined in September – will perform with banjo player Cahill and bassist Dan Eubanks at Front Porch Music perform.
“We’re very excited to introduce Greg and Michael for our show there on the 8th,” said Cahill of Oak Lawn, Illinois.
“These guys are great musicians and players. We will show them to our friends.”
The Valparaiso set will draw primarily from Special Consensus’ 20th album, Chicago Barn Dance, which was released in 2020 through Compass Records and celebrated the band’s 45th anniversary.
“We’re going to be playing a lot of the songs from the newest recording as well as some of the old songs,” said Cahill, who has been teaching banjo at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago since 1973 and has been teaching banjo and private lessons for about 12 years.
“We keep songs in the setlist that we get a lot of requests for and that we know people really like, and usually they’re the ones that we really like. We like them all. We try to keep things in the mix that people have particularly reacted to.”
The Recording Academy responded positively to Special Consensus, nominating the band for a Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album for 2012’s “Scratch Gravel Road” and 2018’s “Rivers and Roads.”
“It’s just an honor to be nominated. There are five nominees in each category from around the world,” said Cahill, noting that Special Consensus could go to the Grammy Awards for each nomination.
“It’s really great when your peers around the world vote for you and you get in the top five. There are so many musicians in any genre who play their entire lives and never get a nomination so it was like ‘wow’ to have a second one. We couldn’t believe it.”
Special Consensus’ latest album, Chicago Barn Dance, features Mike Barnett, Alison Brown, Becky Buller, Grammy Award-winning violinist Michael Cleveland, former member Robbie Fulks, Rob Ickes and Patrick McAvinue; was produced and arranged by Brown; and was recorded and mixed by Matt Coles.
“Chicago Barn Dance” is heralded as a celebration of country and bluegrass music’s long association with Chicago by the WLS-AM (890) radio show “National Barn Dance”, a precursor to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee.
“‘National Barn Dance’ began as a radio show in Chicago in the 1920s,” said Cahill, adding that the program featured all the country stars of the day, as well as other big stars.
“That’s when Bill Monroe came up with the idea of putting the Blue Grass Boys together. He is considered the father of bluegrass music. A lot of that came from playing and being at that barn dance.
“George D. Hay moved to Nashville and eventually got a job at WSM, the biggest AM station there, and then became program director and decided they needed to increase the listening audience, so he modeled the ‘Grand Ole Opry’ after ‘National Barn Dance’ .’ We thought that was important.”
When: 8 p.m. January 8, 2022
Where: Porch Music, 505 E. Lincolnway, Valparaiso
Information: 219-464-4700; frontporchmusic.com
Jessi Virtusio is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.