Bluegrass with a Burlington flair

Local bluegrass-rock band Something With Strings had newcomers and fans alike stomping their feet and singing along to their performance at Nectar’s on Friday, Nov. 12. The ensemble consists of three UVM alumni — Patrick Giblin on banjo, Adam Howard on guitar and Charlie Whistler on the bass, as well as one current student, junior Matt Francis on the mandolin. The recent addition of drummer Matt Vaughan is one example of the band breaking the boundaries of traditional bluegrass, with surprising and pleasant results. This new element proves to make their fast paced songs more danceable than ever.  “[We are] just trying to write high energy songs that resonate with people,” Vaughan said.  They certainly had the crowd at Nectar’s intrigued with a versatile blend of country, rock and bluegrass, even adopting a slow dub style at times. By the end of their second song they had a swelling crowd dancing and cheering exuberantly.  “They’re not like anything else I’ve heard,” Champlain College junior Lauren Swanson said, “There’s no other choice but to dance.”  The five musicians continued to keep the crowd on their toes throughout their hour-and-a-half set, with each band member performing lead vocals for at least one song. The distinctive warbling twangs of both Giblin’s banjo and Francis’s mandolin bring a lot to this band’s unique, vibrant feel. Both members are originally guitar players, having picked up these country instruments solely for the band.  “For me, personally, [I] got the short end of the stick,” Giblin said, “[I] had to pick up the banjo and just practice … day in and day out.”  Francis’s newfound proficiency is equally impressive, as he picked up the mandolin less than two years ago, less than a year before joining the band in March. On stage, he appears as if in a trance, staring off vacantly while picking away at his instrument furiously.  Though bluegrass doesn’t exactly fit the popular conception of the genre that younger demographics are listening to, for Something With Strings, it seems to be working.  “Burlington has a unique musical taste in what they respond to,” Vaughan said.  So far they’ve just been playing shows around Burlington, but the members of Something with Strings said they hope to expand and are heading to the studio to record next week.  “We’re at a crossroads, [with] how we want to keep going and get more professional,” Whistler said. “Now, if we cover our bar tab, we’re happy,” Giblin said. “It’s been great, sharing what we do with everyone.”  Their devotion to the music is apparent, barely leaving time to swill a beer after one song before leaping into another.  They ended off their show with a high-speed cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times” that was full of country flair, eliciting enthusiastic cheers of the crowd.  No one can say what’s in store for these five musicians, but you can be sure they’ll be getting Burlington crowds moving for the foreseeable future. After all, as their motto states, “deep down everybody loves bluegrass.”