Musicians are music fans, too, you know, and sometimes they dream of jamming with their favorite bands.
Darin Aldridge had been to a John Cowan solo show, and knew Cowan’s work on bass and vocals in New Grass Revival and Doobie Brothers. Cowan was keeping track of the country- and gospel-tinged bluegrass music of married couple Darin and Brooke Aldridge as they rose from Cherryville, N.C., to the national stage.
Finally, they met a few years ago when both acts were booked to play “Music City Roots,” a Nashville-based interview and performance broadcast that showcases Americana artists. They went from fans to friends.
Soon after, Cowan played a show in Hickory, and when he heard that the Aldridges were planning to attend, “I was like, ‘Y’all should get up and sing one, let’s play music together,’” Cowan recalled.
Since then, playing music together has been something Cowan and Darin and Brooke Aldridge have done as much as their schedules allow. They shared the stage for a concert at Motorco in Durham in July, and they’re bringing their show to a much bigger stage – Red Hat Amphitheater – Saturday for Wide Open Bluegrass.
Their sets mingle music from their careers past and present, with Cowan and the Aldridges taking turns leading songs from their respective catalogs. But there are plenty of covers and classics thrown in, too, allowing the lineup to work together to form a whole new, powerful sound.
After all, in addition to their instrumental talents, Cowan and Darin and Brooke Aldridge can flat-out sing, and their voices together blend as though they’ve been making music together for years.
“We really concentrate a lot on vocals,” Darin Aldridge said. “It’s really fun singing together and having a blast.”
Cowan calls the lineup “just kind of supernatural musical combination. Brooke and Darin both sing like angels, and I love their music, and their music is a little on the newgrassy side, so it fits with what I’ve done my whole life, too.”
The audiences for each band, however, haven’t always overlapped as easily. With bandmates including Sam Bush and Béla Fleck, Cowan’s New Grass Revival introduced experimentation and improvisation to bluegrass music in the 1970s and ’80s, while Darin and Brooke Aldridge attract a somewhat more traditional crowd. Each act, however, is steeped in the roots of bluegrass music and a desire to keep it moving forward, and that common ground is where Cowan firmly stands.
“That’s funny to me that other people would perceive that there’s some gulf between us musically, because I think it’s quite the opposite,” he said. “I think it’s just kind of perfect, really. I think we have the same sensibilities as musicians.”
A collaboration like this — and so many others during Wide Open Bluegrass and other music festivals — is a cherished opportunity for many musicians, a chance to expand their capabilities and explore new territory.
“Everyone has a separate and unique musical personality, as they do human personality,” Cowan noted, “and interacting with people that you don’t normally interact with produces different results for that very reason.”
And that’s why festivals are special, for musicians as well as audiences, for learning as well as listening.
“You grow and feed off of different people and you learn a lot, and that’s what great about making music with all kind of people,” Darin Aldridge said. “It’s a good vibe.”
What: John Cowan with Darin and Brooke Aldridge and Friends as part of Wide Open Bluegrass. Also including Del McCoury Band, Steep Canyon Rangers and others.
When: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday. John Cowan with Darin & Brooke Aldridge and Friends at 1:30 p.m.
Where: Red Hat Amphitheater, Raleigh
Songs that stand out
John Cowan is known for his searing vocals on a slowed-down version of Merle Travis’ coal-mining song “Dark as a Dungeon.” Darin & Brooke Aldridge hit No. 1 on the bluegrass charts last year with their cover of Johnny Cash’s “Tennessee Flat Top Box.”