High Fidelity will add new/old twist to Summergrass bluegrass festival
This award-winning Nashville band plays music from the 1950s and 1960s with reverence and verve. Its violinist, Corrina Rose Logston, is a fan of blink-182 and Jimmy Eat World.
Get lost, punk-rock and emo! Welcome, bluegrass!
Like many teenagers, Corrina Rose Logston grew up embracing punk and emo music. But fate — and her parents — took her in a very different direction.
That is why Logston, 29, is now a member of the award-winning bluegrass band High Fidelity, whose members range in age from 23 to 35 and each boast impressive credentials as performers. The Nashville-based group will make its California debut at this weekend’s 17th annual Summergrass San Diego festival in Vista, where they will perform three times as part of a lineup that includes The Grascals, David Parmley & Cardinal Tradition, The Old Blue Band, MohaviSoul and at least seven other groups.
“When I was a kid, I just wanted to play punk-rock, and I wanted a Fender Stratocaster (electric guitar),” Logston recalled.
“I liked bands like blink-182 and Jimmy Eat World, and I was definitely influenced by Avril Lavigne and all the stuff from the early 2000s. But I never got a chance to explore that, because my parents didn’t want me to run up the electric bill! So they gave gave me a fiddle instead.”
Happily, Logston was already well-versed in bluegrass — through her parents — before her guitar-less punk phase even began. And while the all-acoustic, steeped-in-tradition High Fidelity doesn’t sound or look like any punk or emo band in the land, the gifted violinist sees some parallels.
“I feel that bluegrass has a high degree of poetry, especially in the earlier stuff,” Logston said. “There are varying degrees of punk-rock and the content and the presentation of bluegrass and punk is different in a lot of ways. But the precision, authenticity and intensity in punk — and especially in emo — makes it go hand-in-hand for me to love traditional bluegrass music. It doesn’t feel like a stretch to me at all. I feel like bluegrass, in its truest form, is really emotive.”
Heartfelt emotion is at the core of High Fidelity’s engaging music, vocally and instrumentally. So is sparkling virtuosity and finely honed interplay.
Yet, while the name of the band might sound like an homage to Nick Hornby’s best-selling 1995 book and the subsequent 2000 feature film and 2006 Broadway musical — all titled “High Fidelity” — there is no connection.
“It has nothing to do with the movie, book or musical,” Logston affirmed.
“ ‘High Fidelity’ is an audio recording phrase that emerged in the 1950s. And that is pertinent for us, because the kind of music we do is directly from the ‘50s and ‘60s, a very specific time period. A lot of the time back then, albums would have the words ‘High Fidelity’ on the covers, signifying the audio quality of the record.
“Over time, its become associated with being ‘traditional.’ But I hate to use that word, because we have a fresh take on what we’re doing, and we’re not rehashing the past. The term ‘High Fidelity’ has become a signifier of authentic bluegrass music. And The ‘High Fidelity’ term is a really good talking point for us. We view it as an opportunity if younger people ask: ‘What does that mean’?”
High Fidelity multi-instrumentalist and co-founder Jeremy Stephens elaborated.
“It wasn’t just bluegrass music from that time period that had ‘High Fidelity’ in huge letters on the album covers — it was used across the recording industry,” said Stephens, 35, who is Logston’s husband.
“But we are a bluegrass band. So, for folks who remember those albums, it makes sense our sound is much derived from that era.”
Baby-boomers and young people
That High Fidelity’s music is so unmistakably reverent is not surprising.
The band’s repertoire draws exclusively from songs that were first recorded 50 or more years ago by such artists as Don Reno & Red Smiley, Jim & Jesse, and the Louvin Brothers (who were also a prime influence on the Everly Brothers). Because High Fidelity’s members are so steeped in an era of bluegrass that dates back more than half a century, they approach their music with a specific aesthetic standard.
This holds equally true on stage and in the recording studio, where the band records together live in the same room, rather than at different times or in separate isolation booths. In concert, Logston, Stephens, bassist Vickie Vaughn and guitarist Daniel Amick often dress in their Sunday finest.
Together, they bring a youthful exuberance to their work that — without taking untoward artistic liberties — makes old music sound crisp and renewed. (Due to other commitments, High Fidelity’s fifth member, 2010 National Bluegrass Banjo Champion Kurt Stephenson, will not be performing with the band at Summergrass.)
“We have a really wide range of people at our shows,” Logston said.
“We see baby boomers and older folks reliving the nostalgia of it. But we also get a lot of people our age, or younger, who see young people on stage and wonder: ‘What is this about?’ They can identify with what we’re doing, partly because they can see themselves in us, visually. We’re presenting the music in a way that makes sense to us, and is accessible to younger people, by giving it our own treatment.”
Stephens shines on banjo, guitar, mandolin and other instruments. From 2010 to 2016, he was a member of a latter-day edition of the Chuck Wagon Gang, the legendary bluegrass group that was launched in 1936. He co-founded High Fidelity in 2014 and has devoted himself to the band for the past three years.
Only months after its inception, High Fidelity won top International Band Championship honors at the 40th Annual Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America Awards. Now, as then, the group’s goal is to salute and extend the aural legacy it cherishes.
A prime example of that approach can be heard on High Fidelity’s spirited version of “Follow the Leader.” The quicksilver instrumental number from the band’s 2016 debut album, “Hills and Home,” features intricate spiraling twin banjo harmony lines that suggest what might have happened if banjo master Béla Fleck has been a member of the Allman Brothers Band.
“In the beginning, you’re enjoying doing what you’re doing and (championing music by) the Louvin Brothers,” Stephens said.
“But you realize you’re injecting your own thing and find that people are interested as much, or more, in what you’re adding to it. So, for the last year and a half, we’ve been exploring more and more the idea of: ‘What can we add to this music in general, through this lens, and still keep within our self-imposed restraints?’ It’s like, if you’re playing Monopoly, you don’t want to play by the rules to The Game of Life! We’re doing bluegrass from the 1950s and ‘60s, and — keeping that in mind — dealing with we can add to it.”
“The other aspect of that,” Logston interjected, “is that with our generation of people, there is a deep desire for authenticity, and I think people see that (in us). We’re not trying to dress stuff up, we’re just trying to be excellent performers — vocally and instrumentally — and present a really visceral type of music that we want people to feel. We don’t water it down. We want to be accurate and I think people feel that authenticity and identify with some aspect of bluegrass music.
“I don’t think we ever look at it in terms of modernizing the music, but, rather, how our other musical experiences can be added to how we play bluegrass music. We’re not trying to update or modernize it. But we are 21st century musicians who are influenced by all the things around us. And that lens we put it through does something that makes it more modern.”
Summergrass at a glance
Launched in 2003, Summergrass is co-produced by the nonprofit North County Bluegrass & Folk Club and the San Diego Bluegrass Society. Last year’s festival drew about 3,000 people. The three-day festival is held in Vista on the grounds of the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum. Since 2004, the festival has also hosted a Kid’s Camp (for children 6 to 16) and, off and on for the past decade, a Boot Camp (for intermediate to advanced players 16 and up). While the main stage performances conclude at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, late-night and early-morning jam sessions take place on the festival grounds. Impromptu jam sessions also take place Wednesday evening, after the on-site campgrounds open, and all day Thursday.
The festival has presented a number of Grammy Award winners over the years, including former Bonsall violinist Mark O’Connor and Nickel Creek co-founders Sara and Sean Watkins, who grew up in Vista. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Chris Hillman is also a Summergrass veteran. He spent his formative years in Rancho Santa Fe before moving to Los Angeles and joining The Byrds.
17th annual Summergrass San Diego festival
With: The Grascals, David Parmley & Cardinal Tradition, High Fidelity, The Old Blue Band, MohaviSoul, Chris Cerna & The Bluegrass Republic, Sheri Lee & Blue Heart, Front Porch Music Preservation Society, Prairie Sky, LeRoy Mack & Gloryland, Vulcan Mountain Boys and The Tom Cunningham Band
When: Main stage performances take place 3 to 10 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. The on-site camping grounds opened Wednesday at 4 p.m.
Where: Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum, 2040 North Santa Fe Ave., Vista
Tickets: $25 Friday and Sunday; $35 Saturday. Three-day passes are $85. Kids under 10 are admitted free with a paying adult. Camping packages, which includes a three-day festival pass and camping starting at 4 p.m. Wednesday, are $143.
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