The Devil Makes Three @ The Depot with Jonny Corndawg

Posted November 26, 2012 in ,

The Devil Makes Three
It was a Saturday night, and judging by the large amount of plaid and beards (both of which were sported by yours truly as well) floating around the venue, people were in the mood for some bluegrass. The Depot is a great spot for the genre because of its large dance floor. The balcony and several bars mean that anyone can see the music from pretty much anywhere, so those who want to dance don’t have to compete with as many rubberneckers for space near the front. A good sound system is also key for acts like this, where vocal harmony and acoustic string instruments take central roles over anything electric or percussive.

There was plenty of social lubrication going on before Jonny Fritz took the stage under his moniker Jonny Corndawg, accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, fiddle player Josh Hedly, and a mustache that Tom Selleck would kill for. Fritz styles himself as a country singer, and that couldn’t be more accurate, but what I found most charming about his performance was the lack of even the slightest hint of irony associated with that role. Often these days, the painfully hip have incorporated country or folk influences into their hipster tunes, but they do it with kind of a wry smile, daring you to challenge their authenticity. These acts can be credited with the great revival that these genres are enjoying among the younger generation, but it’s some of the attitude that I don’t care for. But not Jonny, nope, he’s as straight forward as they come. His set was almost too short, full of nice little tunes with his slight twang and thumb-strumming on the guitar, all with expert fiddle riffs to back it up. Having never heard his music before, I was thoroughly impressed by simple songs like “Fools and Sages” and “Life of a Bear.” While his latest release, Down on the Bikini Line, has a full backing band including drums and some pedal-steel guitar, I preferred the stripped-down versions I saw that night. This guy tours relentlessly and I highly recommend seeing him if you ever get a chance.

Fritz and Hedly weren’t off the stage long before The Devil Makes Three brought out their instruments to loud hoots and solid applause. With only three performers who all share vocals, the band lined up as close to the front of the stage as possible, and it felt like they would’ve preferred to be down on the floor with the rest of us. Their music is the best kind of bluegrass: raunchy, grizzled, often finger-blisteringly fast, and very, very tight--songs about alcohol, long nights, crackwhores and sinning, all played with an old-timey, string-band rhythm that keeps the feet moving. Guitarist Pete Bernhard and banjo-player Cooper McBean traded off leading the vocals, but the best is when all three harmonize. Lucia Turino swings her huge upright bass like a dancing partner and thumps it just as hard. The set was peppered with fan favorites like “Gracefully Facedown” and “Old No. 7,” a gospel-esque tribute to everyone’s favorite Tennessee whiskey. My favorite had to be “All Hail” off of 2009’s Do Right Wrong with its jittery plucking and sardonic verse. All three have great voices and are true performers, working the crowd and feeding off it for their own energy. If you like bluegrass, string music, or you’re just looking for a dirty hoe-down, you must make it a priority to see this band! Please come back through Salt Lake again soon, guys!
The Devil Makes Three Jonny Corndawg