Group is known for traditional, primitive bluegrass
By Chris Fish
TITUSVILLE -- Living near the top of a mountain in Lone Eagle Peak, Colo., an isolated area where the nearest grocery store is 20-miles, Ron Thomason remains busy.
"My neighbor came to me this morning and said his cattle got loose," he said from his home in Colorado. "When we went out on the horses to round them up, they were coming down the hills back to us. Sometimes, you just get lucky."
By day, Mr. Thomason trains horses, including world champion horses, such as the two-time Canadian national champion, but, by night, he wears a different hat.
Since 1976, Mr. Thomason has been the sole member of a continuous rotation of bluegrass musicians for the group Dry Branch Fire Squad, a bluegrass band that he describes as aggressively traditional, Neanderthal even.
"In 76, a guy who knew I played music said I should put a band together to play this bar-gig," he said. "Since the Rolling Stones had been taken, I chose our name. Then, Bill Monroe came in and hired us to play his festivals. Had I known we would be successful, I'd probably had picked a better name."
Since then, the group has played in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival, as well as having an album in the Library of Congress.
Mr. Thomason, who said he plays all types of stringed instruments, is know by audiences for his exceptional live performances and his self-deprecating humor, which shines bright when asked why he would encourage people to attend his shows.
"I'm not sure I would," he laughed. "Our fan-base is established, and it's a pretty acquired taste, like scotch. Most people who like our band are schooled in traditional bluegrass. It's not a good place to start."
Now, Brevard County residents have the chance to experience the Dry Branch Fire Squad on April 12 at the North Brevard Shrine Club in Titusville, an event presented by J.T.'S Bluegrass, a local bluegrass promotion ran by J.T. Shealy.
"I've never met a person who loves bluegrass and loves what he does as much as J.T.," Mr. Thomason said. "It's important to treat musicians with respect, no matter what genre. You don't always get that, and I think it says a lot about the community."
Since 1978, the group joined Rounder Records, a luxury Mr. Thomason said he has enjoyed for the last decade, due to the label also being the home to singer/songwriter Alison Krause.
As of 2010, the current incarnation of the group is Mr. Thomason on mandolin, banjo and guitar; Brian Aldridge on guitar and mandolin; Tom Boyd on banjo and resophonic guitar; and Dan Rusell on bass.
"Everyone in the group has really outstanding skills in life," he said. "They are all good thinkers. I've always wanted to be the worst member in my own band. Now, I have finally done that."
Finally, Mr. Thomason gave words of advice to aspiring musicians.
"I would tell them the same thing I tell a school teacher, social worker or minister," he said. "If you find something else to be happy, do that. If it's what you need to be happy, do it."
Dry Branch Fire Squad will perform at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 12, at the North Brevard Shrine Club at 545 N. Washington Ave., Titusville.
Tickets are $21 and can be purchased online at www.JTsBluegrass.com or by calling (321) 222-7797.