Bluegrass music was born in the Appalachian Mountains in the 1940s, drawing on several folk styles from the British Isles along with American blues and jazz. It eventually became a national favorite. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the Northwoods, where the affection for bluegrass is deep enough to make one question the music’s origin story. That affection will be fed when local favorites Hand-Picked Bluegrass appear on stage in the Nicolet College Theatre at 7:30 p.m. tonight, Tuesday, Feb. 18.
A Wisconsin-based group, Hand-Picked Bluegrass consists of founding member Joe Cronick on banjo and mandolin; his wife and band co-founder Sue Cronick on guitar and fiddle; Gabe Dettinger on banjo; and Bruce Royal on bass. All members contribute to the vocal harmonies. The band honors the deep traditions of bluegrass but uses those as a launching pad, not a fence.
“We enjoy playing a variety of musical genres including classic country, such as Hank Williams, the traditional bluegrass of Bill Monroe, and progressive bluegrass with roots in rock and roll,” Sue Cronick said. “We mix in our own originals, as well.”
The band performs everything in its repertoire acoustically. And that adds to its charm, Cronick believes.
“Acoustic string music is real life music,” she said. “Many of us have been surrounded by friends and family who play or played music, often on stringed instruments, and that might have been bluegrass or country music. This is one of the reasons bluegrass is so relatable.”
She also thinks the more eclectic approach that Hand-Picked Bluegrass offers makes it appeal to a wide range of people and ages.
“It’s music that comes from the heart, so no matter what your musical tastes, there is something for everyone,” she said.
The group recently released its fifth CD, simply titled “V.” A glowing review in the magazine Minnesota Bluegrass
stated, “A band that is willing to play … without posturing or copying styles seems like a rarity which makes Hand Picked Bluegrass such a pleasure to listen to. Fans of solid traditional bluegrass, instrumental polish and great three-part harmonies will not be disappointed. Their music is about soul and not playing songs as fast as they can be played.”
This will be the group’s second appearance at Nicolet College. They performed here in 2011 and recorded that show for a live album (still available). Cronick remembers that show fondly.
“Nicolet is a magical place to play, and we’re looking forward to the Feb. 18 show,” she said.
“Those of us who were here for that show in 2011 won’t forget it,” Nicolet College Theatre director Jim Nuttall said. “Bluegrass is high-energy music but with a relaxed feel all the same, because of its laid back rhythms. Hand-Picked Bluegrass captures all of that, with beautiful vocal harmonies to boot. It’s going to be a fun night.”
An Evening with Hand-Picked Bluegrass is part of the Nicolet Live! 2019-2020 Performing Art Series and will take place in the Nicolet College Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 and can be ordered online at nicolelive.com or by calling 715-365-4646.