Gone are the days of dark concert halls dimly lit by the occasional sparks of lighters and flashbulbs. Things have changed. When musicians gaze out at crowds in 2015, they're greeted by seas of glowing faces illuminated by LED screens.
As New York bluegrass quintet Punch Brothers returned from a year and a half on the road and started working on their fourth studio album, they couldn't get those images out of their heads.
"We would get together for drinks after working on music each day and the same topic kept coming up, which was basically: 'Aren't cell phones weird?'" guitarist Chris Eldridge laughs. "We're all interacting in such different ways now. It's cool that we can be out here on the road and still be connected to our wives and girlfriends back home. But then you go to a show and see people's faces glowing because they're taking a picture or a video to share with their friends. That's just a weird thing to see from the stage because you know those people aren't actually present."
As the album took shape, the group's late night conversations spilled over into much of the lyrical content of their aptly titled new record Phosphorescent Blues—providing the inspiration for songs like album closer "Little Lights," a beautiful reflection on the polarizing effects of technology. Over the group's adventurous style of acoustic bluegrass that borrows heavily from classical music and rock, those words strike an even more powerful chord.
"I think that people are attracted to acoustic music because it does seem more authentic and more grounded to something physical and present," Eldridge says. "There's no faking it with these instruments."
The band is quick to point out their attraction to acoustic instruments wasn't a conscious desire to rebel against music that relies on electronics, however. They're all open-minded music fans who are excited by progression, but as Eldridge puts it, "We just wouldn't really know what to do with a synthesizer." As a group of musicians who all started playing their respective instruments as young children, bluegrass music just happens to be in their blood.
"I literally would not exist if it weren't for the five-string banjo," Eldridge chuckles. "My parents met because they were both banjo players. We were all kind of brought into this through family connections and our families were all very instrumental in providing us space to work and really take music seriously."
Though raised on bluegrass, the band's musical influences are varied and it shows in their work. If you've ever wanted to see a bluegrass band cover Beyoncé, The White Stripes, or The Strokes, a Punch Brothers show is for you.
"One thing that everyone on Earth can agree with is that we look exactly like a bluegrass band," Eldridge explains. "As far as the content of the music goes, it gets a lot trickier, though. We're a string band and we all grew up playing bluegrass and admiring the masters of bluegrass, but we all just love music in all its various forms." He continues, "Anytime a musician hears music they love, it's not because it's of a certain genre, it's because it moves them. That's the kind of music we try to pay attention to, study, and hopefully create."
Punch Brothers | Peak Summer Nights
5:30 pm, Friday, September 4
Athletic Club of Bend,
61615 Athletic Club Dr.