Pickin’ and grinnin’ doesn’t get more descriptive than with Larry Keel & Natural Bridge. Larry Keel may be a guitar master but his “backup” band isn’t subpar. The Natural Bridge includes Mark Schimick tearing up the mandolin, Will Lee going to town on a 5 string banjo, and Jenny Keel beating down the bass. The bluegrass maestros are playing this Thursday night at Red Light Café. A trip to Atlanta is a trip home for Jenny Keel.
Growing up in Atlanta, Keel says she listened to more classic rock, southern rock and jazz than bluegrass. It wouldn’t be until she moved to Virginia to attend college that she was fully exposed to the genre.
“When I got up here, with the snap of your fingers you could sit in or check out any old time jam, Keel says.”You could take walks and there’s always something going on. That’s how I met Larry. I went to see one of my buddies picking. Low and behold there’s Larry on stage with him, and I was “who are you - in my town? Why don’t I know you?” Yeah I stalked him right from there.”
For the past 17 years Larry and Jenny have been together. During that time they’ve collaborated on several projects including recording with Keller Williams. In 2010, Keller and the Keels released “Thief,” an interesting mix of covers. Being a bass and guitar duo, Keel says it’s easy and fun for the duo to work with other artists.
“It’s kind of like a backbone situation. If you’ve got a bass player and a guitar player you have a real strong core,” she says. “Therefore, we can merge with people that showcase their, whatever instrument… mandolin, fiddle, banjo or vocality, and you’ve always got a solid backup thing in the two of us. “
While Keel says being able to play together helps with the grind of the road, she had to learn how to play first.
“It solves the problem of homesickness and yearning to be back home with the family unit,” Keel says. “We’re our own family unit, together 24/7, and we wanted it that way from the beginning, when we met and fell in love.
“I didn’t even play music so, already that was going to be something to deal with if Larry was touring all the time and I was stuck at home. It was fate, I don’t know, something… I was able to learn quickly.”
Larry put her to the test during her lessons.
“He said ‘OK, you’ve been messing around with the bass and everything, it’s time to jump into the fire.’ And that’s what happened. We knew we wanted to be together, that was absolutely the goal however it was going to happen. And turns out, I was able to play in the band with him.”
Those quickly learned bass skills can be easily distinguished on their 2009 album Backwoods. Keel says she would like to learn the banjo and guitar more, but like most people she has to battle time.
“I’m so busy with the touring, and when we do come home it’s just a big circus juggling act of management, business, paperwork, report, not to mention household stuff,” she explains. “I have a home, a cat, have to do laundry, have to get vehicles ready to get back on the road…the old cliché, if I just had more time in the day. Sounds so Western Civilization. The Chinese, that’s not part of their culture, they think they have all the time in the world – and their right. I’m not stressed by it, but yeah, it seems to leave me short for things I want to do.”
One thing that there is always time for is music. Keel says performing is a chance to connect to other people.
“The goal every time is to connect, share the music and be a team…to create the best music possible, the best vibe, and have a great time,” she says. “Be it 2000 strangers in an auditorium or music hall, our goal is to get everyone on the same page through the music, and be comfortable, and fired up… or just transported. Whatever the emotion of the song calls for, if it’s scary or just wide open, joyous…anywhere, anytime that’s what we’re going for. “
Tickets to see Larry Keel & Natural Bridge on March 3 are $12. Whoa Nelly will open the show at 7 p.m. Contact Red Light Café at 404-874-7828.
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