Cowering away from the insistent drizzle under a table umbrella near the beer tent, my mood was not of the best when Special Ed and the Shortbus appeared in the entrance of the Spiegeltent and gave a taster of their music. Spirits lifted immediately.
Damp and slightly steaming, once inside the venue, I was soon made to forget the insistent rhythm of the rain as the first notes were played. Toes started tapping seemingly of their own volition as the merry cocktail of bluegrass, rag and honky-tonk filled the tent, whose decor of wood panels and mirrors evoked both a Victorian pub and a Western saloon, providing an extremely apt backdrop for the sounds coming from the stage.
The young five man acoustic band play with verve, vigour and a true feel for the roots of their chosen idiom. Which stilted critic-speak completely fails to convey the sheer fun and laughter of the show. Yes, there is laughter, caused by the saucy lyrics of some of the songs but even while not laughing I defy anyone not sit and listen to these guys without a broad smile on the face.
Special Ed Brogan on guitar and vocals appears to be the leader of the band but the main audience rapport is provided through Josh Bearman (mandolin, banjo, bass , vocals) and Aaron Lewis (fiddle, vocals). The rhythm section, Jake Sellers (washboard, trap set, percussion) and Ben Belcher (bass, banjo, vocals) are in the best tradition self-abnegatory and still the solid backbone of the music although the entire band contribute to the rhythmic shuffle than is integral to this tradition.
Ah, tradition! I doubt very much whether any of these chaps are real hillbillies, looking for the most part like a bunch of keen Greenwich Village student-types grown up a bit. Bearman looks remarkably like my mate Stu, which means nothing to you but made me feel more kindly towards them. Aaron Lewis, however, cowboy-hatted, Hawaiian-sunset-shirted and proud bearer of a beard he must have started growing when he was in his infancy provides the necessary visual nudge as to where these guys are coming from, emotionally and musically if not geographically.
If you like this sort of music, you must go. Everyone else should go and those who leave without having had a good time are just not the sort of people whom I would want to meet. Merchandise is on sale after. I bought some.