Long lost band, the Department of Bluegrass, will be having a reunion at the National Folk Festival this year. The original line up of will be back with at their best at the Troubadour at 7pm Saturday 22 March. “This is probably the first National that all the guys will be together, so a reunion gig seemed like the right thing to do. We also didn’t have a lot of choice” said John (Human Resources and Admin Manager) for the Department.
The Department was established in the early days of the 21st Century, and was orginally tagged as Chubby Thighs and the Lower Molonglo Mountain Boys. That was, however, considered irreverant and not in keeping with proper principles of governance in the National Capital. By Executive Decree (Donal Baylor, Permanent Head and general Bossman) changed the name and established an accountability and responsibility matrix – Donal Baylor (fiddle), Chris Jacobs (guitar and vocals), John Taylor (banjo and vocals), Tony Hunter (mandolin./dobro and vocals). The bass position was vacant and filled on a casual as-needs basis.
The Department debuted with Donal, Chris, John and Tony at the National in or 2002 in a gig at the Merry Muse made famous for the floor being awash due to the unseasonal rains that year. Due to the bass vacancy, Jack Sommers was recruited. The lack of a permanent bass player changed after Sam Martin was apprehended by JT (who was on duty at the time moonlighting as a Sheriff) at the Festival without a wristband. After it was established that Sam was there to play with his Dad’s bad, Collector, and would be attending the School of Music in Canberra studying the double bass he was quickly drafted into the lineup. A couple of rehearsals and a few local gigs at the Merry Muse and sundry beer gardens later and the Department were established favourites with the bluegrass/roots music afflicted in the region.
The Department was firmly and defiantly traditional — hammering out not only the Monroe classics but breathing life into his lesser known numbers. They covered the Stanleys, Flatt and Scruggs as well as taking inspiration from the Johnson Mountain Boys, James King, Jimmy Martin and even Hank Williams Senior. They wowed their local crowds as well as those further afield such as the Quarterdeck in Narooma, Merimbula Bowling Club and the Jamberoo and Cobargo Folk Festivals.
The 2004 Cobargo Festival was the last outing for the band, as Chris had relocated to Melbourne. However for the swansong Chris came up for the weekend, bringing Lachlan Davidson who had also been engaged on a non-ongoing basis on the mandolin. The Department had a great reception, and when Donal and John and Sam teamed up for the 2008 Cobargo Festival as part of “Sam Martin’s Bluegrass Extravaganza” (with Ray Gardaya, Damon Davies and Damien Neil) the old Departmental days were relived in part. At the final show Sam made reference to the Department playing at Cobargo in 2004 and there was a scattering of yee-haas Striking while the iron was hot, (and without consultation with stakeholders) Sam announced “And as all of us will be at the National in a couple of weeks there will be reunion gig” – and there was a mighty cheer. So it had to be organised. A covering minute went off to Dave O’Neill and Andrew Pattison and the gig was a done thing.
So catch up with the gentlemen of the Department of Bluegrass 7pm at the Troubadour Wine Bar 22 March 2008 at the National Folk Festival.