Break out the banjo
No Bad Barley
It was cold and windy when I went to see bluegrass band No Bad Barley. I’d gotten hold of a demo CD, and I was eager to hear them play live. I put on a hat, got myself a pint and settled at a table at the Char Pit in Kings Beach. After warming their fingers and making us in the chilled audience laugh a couple of times, they began playing. I couldn’t stop my feet from tapping or wipe the smile off my face.
I later met up with the jovial group of guys (the lone woman of the group, fiddle player Mary Lou Cooper, was otherwise engaged). The band has been together in various forms for three years.
The group possesses a warm and entertaining presence off stage as well as on. This translates to an adventurous sense of music that integrates well with their bluegrass style. They incorporate a spectrum of musical styles from traditional bluegrass to show tunes to Led Zeppelin covers into their wide-ranging sets.
No Bad Barley is comprised of Mike Mazzie on mandolin, Geoff Gardener on stand-up bass, Bentley Palfreyman on guitar, Bob Wright on banjo and Cooper on fiddle. Vincent Alfano recently joined the band, and he’s going to rounds things out on drums.
This current configuration, with the addition of drums—an instrument not found in traditional bluegrass bands—puts the band in an exciting transition. Drums will allow them to explore new and different musical genres and satisfy the wide-ranging musical interests of the members.
“The addition of Vincent has been the biggest musical opening for all of us because it has allowed us to do a lot of different things,” says Palfreyman with group-wide enthusiasm.
As they have primarily focused on rearranging other people’s tunes to their distinctive style, a big difference will be the thrust toward creating more original tunes.
No Bad Barley has established a unique sound, a result and combination of the members’ multi-genre interests. Mazzie started his musical career playing folk and jam-band tunes on the guitar. Gardener has played drums, electric bass and double bass for jazz and rock ‘n’ roll bands. Palfreyman was inspired by such folk deities as Doc Watson and Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass, to play bluegrass, but he’s not what you’d call hidebound.
“I’m also into Frank Zappa,” he said. “I love the Dead, all sorts of different stuff, it’s all in me. So I’ll never be a total traditionalist.”
Like many teenaged aficionados, Wright started playing music after he bought an electric guitar and a “big loud” amplifier, he said.
“I took a few lessons and formed a garage band … Years later, somebody gave me banjo. That was about 15 years ago. When I started playing, I fell in love with it.”
The most traditional bluegrass musician of the group, Cooper is classically trained but started playing bluegrass about 10 years ago. She plays the traditional tunes with a band in the Bay Area and explores other genres with No Bad Barley.
New Orleans-native Alfano has the most diverse musical background of the group. He was exposed to music as a child by his honky-tonk-piano-playing mother. Alfano has played honky-tonk, rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, Dixieland, blues, zydeco and Cajun.
“In New Orleans, you have to play a lot of variety because everybody’s so spoiled by all the music,” he explained.
Smiling and toe-tapping fans of No Bad Barley might get a little spoiled by all the diverse music as well.