There are few things finer than listening to live bluegrass music, and that’s why it’s a beautiful thing to have the opportunity to write about Bluegrass Redemption, a local, legit bluegrass band hosting Bluegrass in the Valley March 3 at the Park Forest Baptist Church.
“We are so excited about this that we hired the Stoney Creek Bluegrass Band from West Virginia to play a set that night as well,” said Bluegrass Redemption banjo player and founding member Keith Miska.
To be fair — and to reveal my unabashed bias — I like all the bluegrass bands, and I mean all. I like local heroes like Haystack Lightning, Crooked Line, the Poe Valley Troubadours and Mama Corn. I like big timers like Ricky Skaggs, Del McCoury and other national acts. Even if it’s a collection of yokels slowly stumbling through a few rounds of “Old Joe Clark” at a jam, I like it. It’s the spirit of the music that is so great, and people who play it in earnest have that same spirit.
With all of that said, Bluegrass Redemption isn’t close to stumbling through anything. It’s quite the opposite. This band is really good, and we have them right here in Centre County, playing Centre County gigs, with a Centre County vibe.
“Although this is not traditional bluegrass territory,” Miska said, “people in State College appear to love this style of music. It’s pretty much impossible to maintain a frown on your face when you hear the sounds of these instruments come together in this musical form. It just gets people moving.”
The band has been around for a while, since 2013, and was originally assembled by Miska to play a gig at the Fort Armstrong Folk Festival. In addition to Miska, current members include Mike Bratton on doghouse bass, Rick Auhl on lead guitar and vocals, prodigy Gus Tritsch on fiddle, Rich Kratzer on mandolin and vocals and, on special occasion, Miranda Auhl on vocals.
The lineup is the result of a recent configuration, made necessary when members of the band experienced a tragedy last fall.
“On Sept. 9, 2017 the band experienced the profound and sudden loss of Rick’s wife, and their fiddle player, Jane,” Miska said.
After Jane died, Kratzer continued singing the bulk of the vocals with some help from Auhl, and, with the lineup in place, Bluegrass Redemption is now doing what most local bands are doing: scrapping for local gigs while often getting numerous opportunities out of town.
“We have been hoping to get picked up by a local family restaurant so we could play a regular show once or twice a month,” Miska said. “Not many places have a space for a five-piece band. For now, we will continue to play festivals, weddings, church services and picnics, and the occasional private party.”
Although local gigs are notoriously tough to come by for local bands, there are actually quite a few places in Centre County to hear bluegrass music, if you have you have your eyes wide open and both feet on the ground.
“One of the best places to hear bluegrass is at the Remington Ryde Bluegrass Festival July 4-8 in Centre Hall,” Miska said. “It is one of the best bluegrass festivals in the state. There are also quite a few other bands in the area that can be heard playing bluegrass music regularly at Zeno’s and the Elk Creek Café. Those interested in participating in a local bluegrass jam can check out the Bluegrass and Gospel Jam every Tuesday at the Pine Hall Lutheran Church.”
Miska’s clearly a bluegrass enthusiast, but he’s a musician at heart, which comes out clearly when explains his experience playing music.
“Doing this is so much fun,” Miska said. “You get into the groove of a song and the music just lifts you to a higher place. It is one of the most enjoyable experiences of life. In the band, you need to work as a team, yet each individual brings their own unique talent into every song.”
Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail.com.
IF YOU GO
- What: Bluegrass in the Valley
- When: 7 p.m. March 3
- Where: Park Forest Baptist Church, 3030 Carnegie Drive, State College
- Info: 826-5627