The Dixie Bee-Liners are the newest member of the Pinecastle Records family, with their first full-length CD project, Ripe, expected early in 2008.
Their debut, self-titled release was a short form CD with 8 tracks, released in 2005. It spent over a year on the Roots Music Report bluegrass chart, cracking the top 10 for more than 2 months.
The band is focused around the singing/songwriting team of Buddy Woodward and Brandi Hart, and Buddy tells us that the new CD will have a new music focus: “The music is all original, we will be reprising two songs from our first limited-release CD-EP, plus a whole batch of new tunes that Brandi and I wrote over the winter and spring - including one we co-wrote with Blue Highway’s Tim Stafford, and another we co-wrote with producer Bil VornDick. It will be everything fans have come to expect from us, ranging from hard-core bluegrass to a few envelope-pushing diversions along the way. There will be a little something for everybody.”
In addition to Buddy on mandolin and Brandi on guitar, Ripe will feature fellow Bee-Liners Rachel Johnson on fiddle and Sam Morrow on banjo, along with guest appearances from Mark Fain and Andy Leftwich (Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder) on bass and mandolin/fiddle respectively, ex-Grascal David Talbot on banjo, and dobro player Travis Toy from Rascal Flatts.
Buddy tells us that they are currently auditioning bass players and lead guitarists, with an eye towards having a full, regular Bee-Liner contingent for their road work. They are also firming up new management and representation to have all the pieces in place when the new CD hits next year.
He mentioned how exciting it was to jump to a respected label, recording with a top producer:
“We’re thrilled to be on Pinecastle. Its been a long road, and lots of hard work to get here. Along the way we’ve had the help & support of a lot of great people, most especially journalists and DJs around the world, not to mention our friends and fans. We couldn’t have done it without any of ‘em.
"Working with Bil VornDick has been a fantastic, mind-blowing experience. After having handled production chores for the band myself up to this point, I’m delighted to hand the reins over to him. I can only compare the experience to the Beatles working with George Martin: he didn’t change what we do, instead he helped to refine and focus what makes us unique, and we’ve all come away from the sessions having learned a lot, as well as having a heck of a lot of fun…he’s a producer after my own heart.
"I can’t wait for everybody to hear the new CD, its going to be a corker!”
The Dixie Bee-Liners have a nice feature up on Gibson’s web site. It gives an overview of the band - and their story of meeting and starting a bluegrass band in New York, and then moving to Virginia - along with a photo of Brandi Hart and Buddy Woodward touring the Gibson custom shop.
It also mentions their upcoming CD, now nearly completed, and the addition to the band of Rachel Renee Johnson on fiddle, Sam Morrow on banjo, Claiborne Woodall on lead guitar and Andy Blevins on upright bass.
Gibson is also sponsoring a blog for The Dixie Bee-Liners, which you can find on the Gibson site as well.
A bluegrass band from New York City? It’s an interesting enough anomaly on its own, but the Dixie Bee-Liners don’t have to count on that to draw swarms of fans. Brandi Hart and Buddy Woodward’s clever merging of the Big Apple and the Appalachians, of Bible Belt-noir and near-holy harmonies, has swept their contemporaries under the rug and clean off the bluegrass charts.
Last year, the Dixie Bee-Liners’ eponymous, eight-song EP landed them on the Roots Music Report Bluegrass chart and kept them in the Top 10 for six weeks. Then Bluegrass Now voted Dixie Bee-Liners one of the Top Five Albums of 2006, providing ample momentum for the duo to record their first LP. A string of fortuitous events, and venerable pairings, recently brought the duo to Nashville to do just that! While in Music City, the Gibson-sponsored band was treated to a personal tour of the Custom Shop, where they got an up-close look at the hand-crafting of their favorite Gibson guitars, mandolins, and basses.
Currently negotiating a record deal with a prominent bluegrass label, the Dixie Bee-Liners have assembled an all-star team to craft their debut album. Bil VornDick, who’s worked with Alison Krauss, Jim Lauderdale, Bob Dylan, and James Taylor, agreed to produce the album, while Tim Stafford, former Alison Krauss & Union Station guitarist, and current leader of Blue Highway, co-wrote several songs. Then, the Dixie Bee-Liners welcomed new pickers Rachel Renee Johnson, Sam Morrow, Claiborne Woodall, and Andy Blevins into their two-man band.
Though they’re now based in Abingdon, VA, where Hart says “there's a banjo in every pot and a picker in every parlor,” Hart and Woodward first met in New York City. During their shared gig as cast members in a 2001 Loretta Lynn tribute show, Woodward first heard Hart’s honeyed voice. Later, he insisted that they get married and start a band. The latter actually happened. Clearly, the pair is a match made in bluegrass heaven.
This eight-track CD showcases the superlative singing and songwriting of Brandi Hart and Buddy Woodward. The couple excels at crafting cutting edge originals while maintaining reverence for traditional bluegrass and roots music. With more winners in the hopper and Hart's selection for the 2006 IBMA Songwriters Showcase, big things are hopefully on the horizon for the Dixie Bee-Liners!
The Dixie Bee-Liners could be seen as an anomaly in the rapidly expanding world of bluegrass and acoustic music - a male/female, singer/songwriter duo playing Appalachian-inflected original music with their band, originally from a base in New York City.
On second thought, maybe there isn’t much of an anomaly at all, as artists based in in every corner of the globe seek to claim, and redefine, the music that originated in the southeastern mountain regions of the United States. Recent entrants have included The Earl Brothers, playing a minimalistic sort of mountain string music from CA, and G2, a bluegrass band in Sweden whose music sounds very much like what I encounter here in southwestern VA.
The Bee-Liners are Brandi Hart and Buddy Woodward, both accomplished bluegrass players, singers and songwriters. While Buddy is a New Yorker, Brandi hails from the Bluegrass State, growing up in Lexington, KY. Brandi will be a showcase songwriter at IBMA’s World of Bluegrass this fall, and Buddy will be appearing before audiences throughout the south this fall reprising his multiple roles in the touring show for Man Of Constant Sorrow: The Story of the Stanley Brothers, originally staged at The Barter Theater in Abingdon, VA.
Their debut release was a self-titled EP CD containing 8 songs, was widely praised by critics, with the "culture clash" between the Appalachians and the Big Apple a major part of their sound. It spent six weeks in the Top Ten on the Roots Music Report bluegrass chart after its release.
The reaction to this initial project has led them to a current collaboration with Tim Crouch and Doug Deforest, who are producing their next recording. The project is being shopped now to labels, and will be completed once those arrangements are concluded.
I had the opportunity to hear several tracks from this yet-to-be-completed project, and was immediately struck by the warmth of the recording, the leap in maturity in both the songs and the arrangements as compared to the first release, and the success with which they merge a more modern approach to songwriting with the traditional forms of bluegrass and old time music.
Buddy credits Tim and Doug for much of this success of this new set of tracks, which also feature Ned Luberecki on banjo, and Travis Toy (of Rascal Flatts) on dobro, along with Buddy on mandolin, Brandi on guitar, Tim Crouch on fiddle and Doug Deforest on bass.
Returning to the theme expressed in the title of this post, Brandi and Buddy have recently made the move from NYC to Abingdon, both to be closer to Barter Theater and Virginia’s Crooked Road project (with whom they have worked closely), and to live amongst the mountains, the music and the people where the seeds of their sound were initially sown.
They discussed the move recently with Tad Dickens of The Roanoke Times, in an article posted on the RT site.
You can find more details about the band on their web site.
Get ready for the Dixie Bee-Liners. The group that some are calling the next hot bluegrass act is moving to Southwest Virginia.
Brandi Hart, a heartbreakingly good singer, and multi-instrumentalist Buddy Woodward have decided to move their act from the more frenetic New York City to the more bucolic Abingdon. It puts them closer to Barter Theatre, where Woodward is a cast member in "Man of Constant Sorrow: The Story of the Stanley Brothers." It puts them closer to their new friends in the Crooked Road organization, and closer to Nashville.
The Bee-Liners play the Blue Ridge Music Center, Galax, on Wednesday. The Cana Ramblers open the 7 p.m. show.
An e-mail interview with Woodward and Hart reveals a ration of goofiness but a reverence for the music and the audience.
Q: You call your musical style "Bible Belt noir." Explain who came up with that tag.BUDDY WOODWARD: A man appeared on a flaming pie & said unto us "from this day on you are 'Bible Belt Noir'," & we said, "yes, please."
BRANDI HART: Alan Young, who puts out the New York-based e-newsletter Trifectagram, came up with the tag. It came about in response to a conversation he and I had about my childhood in Kentucky and how it influenced my songwriting.
Q: Buddy, how did you hook up with the "Man of Constant Sorrow" gig?BUDDY WOODWARD: A couple years ago a friend sent Brandi & I a notice from Craig's List about NY auditions for a touring company of the Barter Theatre's "Keep On The Sunny Side: The Story of The Carter Family." We're not really actors (though I do voice-over work for cartoons on the side), but we figured you never know who you might meet or where it might lead, etc. Neither of us were cast, but the Barter folks kept my info on file, & when MOCS came up last year they called & offered me the gig. Which, I might add, is probably the only independently verifiable instance in the annals of recorded human history where "we'll keep your application on file" actually meant something! It's been a wonderful experience, & opened up many doors for the Dixie Bee Liners as well. And the good people of the mountain south have welcomed us with open arms.
Q: What drew you guys to move to Abingdon? Was "Constant Sorrow" a factor? Or were there other reasons? Obviously, it's closer to Brandi's old Kentucky home.BUDDY WOODWARD: The Barter Theatre is based out of Abingdon, as is The Crooked Road organization, who are big supporters of ours. I will be doing more work with the Barter in the future (including an October tour with MOCS which will take us to the Carolinas, Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky & other points south). It's also close to important festivals, and its within striking distance of Nashville... not to mention a TON of great pickers, including some really hot ones coming out of ETSU's bluegrass program.
BRANDI HART: We'd been wanting to leave New York for a long time, both for career purposes and just plain mental health. When we played Ralph Stanley's festival in May, we saw about 15 or 20 rainbows in the mountains -- so many that we lost count. That was the last sign we needed.
Q: Is the entire band making the move? And is the move strictly band related, or do you find that this is a better region in which to play your style of music?BUDDY WOODWARD: Just Brandi & I are making the move. We love our band & hope that we can keep as many of them on as possible when our tour schedule picks up and our appearance fees allow. Meanwhile, we will be looking for local musicians to play with us.
BRANDI HART: It was clear that we needed to relocate if we're going to take The Dixie Bee-Liners to the next level. And yes, it's a MUCH better region to play roots music, probably one of the best places in the country for what we're doing.
Q: The band is recording its first full-length album, but already has gained a good deal of media exposure -- BBC, NPR, the Food Network, Sirius. Root Music Report calls the Bee-liners "the next big thing in bluegrass music." You've already released a very successful EP. Not much pressure to produce this time out, eh?BUDDY WOODWARD: None at all! The hard part for us is always what to leave OUT -- we really have an embarrassment of riches & could easily put out three CDs a year & still not release everything we have. We have dozens of songs, including three complete "concept album" projects ready to go. Put us together with the right label, a good booking agent and a decent publicity budget, and this thing will punch a hole in the sky like a Saturn 5, I guarantee it.
BRANDI HART: Yeah, I wrote a LOT of songs on the subway.
Q: New York has a built-in audience for just about any kind of music. How is the audience response in the south different than what you get in your soon-to-be-former home base? And how does that whole "Bible Belt Noir" tag play in different regions?BUDDY WOODWARD: The "built-in audience" thing is a myth. NYC has SO many entertainment options & people's tastes are SO diverse that its neigh impossible to really build up a big following in any genre. There are few clubs that will support bluegrass, let alone pay decent. Once you get out of the NY Metro area, live music is an "event" for people, something they really look forward to & attend as a family.
BRANDI HART: As for "Bible Belt Noir," it's not meant to be sacrilegious. Once people hear us, they realize immediately that we come from a long tradition of lonesome-sounding mountain music and spooky old hymns... no matter how "uptown" we get. (And we live on 177th Street -- that's waaaaay uptown.)
No offense to anyone else in the band, but why isn't Brandi already a superstar?BUDDY WOODWARD: Because I've been holding her back. I can make her & I can break her, bwaa-ha-ha-haaaaaa!!!
BRANDI HART: Honestly, Buddy taught me everything I know. If he hadn't come along, I'd still be performing for the cat. The band is what makes me sound great. I couldn't think of going it alone in this business.
Aside from Galax, you have a Barter gig and a show at the Down Home, in Johnson City. Any plans to play the Blacksburg or Roanoke areas any time soon?HART: We'd love to play Blacksburg or Roanoke! Just tell 'em to give us a call!
New York City is not exactly known as a hotbed for bluegrass music.
"No one would intentionally move to New York to start a bluegrass band," says Bee-Liner lead singer and guitarist Brandi Hart. "Well, no one but Buddy. And you'd just have to ask him about his sanity."
Hart and multi-instrumentalist Buddy Woodward form the core of the Dixie Bee-Liners. The due are preparing to relocate to Abingdon, VA, after [five] years as a team in New York. They're playing two shows in Knoxville today. The group, whose self-titled and self-released album was released in 2005, have been making some waves in the bluegrass market -- despite the act's city of origin.
The group's music has been added to bluegrass stations on both the Sirius and XM satellite radio services, and performed a showcase at the International Bluegrass Music Association in late 2005.
There were a few prejudices at the act's city of origin. When the act was announced as being from New York City, someone in the crowd shouted, "Get a rope!" -- a reference to an old Pace salsa commercial.
"We laughed. Everybody did," says Hart. "We had to prove ourselves at IBMA. Of course anybody has to prove themselves in bluegrass!"
Hart moved to New York from Nicholasville, KY in 1998 to pursue modern dance. "It was a real good excuse to leave my hometown," she says.
She says Woodward refers to himself as a "Navy brat," but he spent time in Maryland and the Washington, D.C., area (which is a bluegrass hotbed) and in California. The two met in October 2001, when both were working on a Loretta Lynn tribute show.
"Buddy heard me sing one song and asked me to marry him and start a band," says Hart.
The band was started, but the marriage hasn't happened yet.
Woodward taught Hart how to play the guitar and, she says, schooled her in bluegrass. "I had been in a little country band that performed at parties," says Hart, "But this was really my first professional gig. I learned while I earned. I'd be onstage with my knees knockin'."
The group was originally called The String Club for Men, with Hart being the one non-male member. However, the group changed to the Dixie Bee-Liners, after a stretch of Kentucky's Highway 41.
The band really began to hone their chops at a New York club called the Parkside Lounge, one of the few places that gave local bluegrass bands a place to play.
"New York City has a lot of avid music fans, but everyone is so exhausted from working to pay rent.... You have to really hustle to get a crowd out," says Hart.
Woodward landed a role in the Barter Theater's Man of Constant Sorrow: The Story of the Stanley Brothers, which ran for two seasons at the theater and will begin a national tour this fall.
Hart says she and Woodward are looking forward to moving to Abingdon and [escaping the "local band syndrome"] further south. "We can't wait to get out of New York," says Hart. "New York City is just not a place to have a small business in the arts. I'm sure there will always be people with enough money to pay what they're charging, but we can't afford it."
January 15, 2006 Decatur, GA MARK YEAGER: Where y'all from? BRANDI HART: Kentucky, by way of New York City. BUDDY WOODWARD: Somewhere else.
MY: Where y'all been? BW: To the corner store for cheese. BH: Buddy, didn't you recently go to Virginia? BW: If I told you, I'd have to kill you.
MY: Where y'all goin'? BW: Everywhere that's left.
MY: What did you know, and when did you know it? BH: I just learned all the words to "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes." BW: Old Jed's a millionaire. Kinfolk told me.
MY: Is NYBGOT a government agency created after 9/11? BW: Yes. And they know who you are, Pinko. BH: No! NYBGOT stands for New York Blue Grass & Old Time. It's a newsgroup for three generations of folk musicians in the New York City area, reaching back to the folk revival in Washington Square Park. Our good friends KATE AND LOU are the moderators.
MY: Did Tennessee Ernie Ford have any influence on "Ball & Chain?" I hear him in the finger snaps. I hear all kinds of wonderful things woven in. Yeah, even a little Paul Revere & the Raiders and Norman Greenbaum, maybe? BW: Tennessee Ernie Ford bought me my first pair of lederhosen. BH: Buddy's a serious student of 1960s AM radio. He came up with the bass line and finger snaps for that song, and he thinks up most of our arrangements.
MY: Does anyone in the group play brass or keyboards? BH: Not in public.
MY: Would you ever consider adding a tuba track to "Roses Are Grey?" Maybe an accordian, too, somewhere in the middle? With its 3/4 time signature and yodeling, it would be a very Tyrolian thing to do? BH: Hence, the lederhosen. BW: What about those nifty contrapuntal Aeolian cadenzas? Pretty neat, eh? BH: I like tubas. And I once wrote an accordian part for Buddy's Mexican polka-honky-tonk-drinking song, "He Who Drinks Alone."
MY: The harmonies in "Davy" make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. How'd you do that? BH: Compression. BW: Aquanet.
MY: Your bio says you have "golden pipes and a lead foot." Indication of a heavy metal crossover to acoustic? BH: No, but I've been reading up on alchemy. BW: What she meant to say was, "lead pipes and a golden foot." BH: What he meant to say was, "rusted pipes and a golden plunger." No, wait, that's our bathtub.
MY: I'm from Kentucky, too. In Kentucky, if you want to hunt frogs, you have to buy a fishin' license. That never made sense to me, so I left. Why did you leave? BH: Well, it's a roundabout story, not really involving frogs at all. I left Kentucky to pursue a career in modern dance. BW: All civilized countries insist that you have a license for your frog. BH: How would you know? BW: If I told you, I'd have to kill you.
MY: "Roses are Grey" reminds me of the story of a feller from Corbin, KY, who went up to Cincinatti for a job and then got laid off. He spent his idle time in a cheap downtown hotel, fishin' for rats with hooks baited with hotdogs, in the alley outside the window of his 5th floor room, while listening to Reds games on the radio. People back home used to kid him about it. But he'd just say, "Rat fishin' most pleasin' by God!"
Are you combining Bluegrass ethos with an urban pathos? BH: That is one heck of a good story. That guy would never get bored in New York. But yeah, I'm sure there's an bit of dialectic in what we do. Mostly, though, I think that comes from musical contrasts -- not so much cultural ones. BW: What that guy meant to say was, "Rat fishin' most pleasin' to God." BH: I'm afraid to ask what he did with the rats.
It's not that often that one turns a potential career in modern dance in the Big Apple into a singer/songwriter/guitar-strummer gig with an old-fashioned Bluegrass band, but one of Somerset's own has just such a distinction.
Brandi Hart, along with songwriting partner Buddy Woodward, fronts the Dixie Bee-Liners, an emerging new band focusing on the kind of pure, unadulterated Bluegrass music that our forefathers (well, not THAT "fore" ...) listened to in the hills of Appalachia.
Only three years old, the band is starting to come into its own, fresh off a big-time performance at a major Bluegrass gathering to a new retail option to sell the band's self-titled EP -- just visit www.milesofmusic.com and look for the Dixie Bee-Liners.
But Hart, 30, didn't imagine until just a few years ago that this was what she'd be doing. Despite spending her youth singing in Baptist church choirs in her home state -- living in Somerset before moving to Lexington as a kid -- Hart's experience in on-stage showmanship had seen her as a part of a rock band. Then she sought out schools in New York City to study modern dance. But none of that stuck.
"Some people grew up around this type of music their whole lives, and people always told me I should sing country," said Hart. "I guess it was sort of a rebellion against my own culture (that led me to try other things).... There's not much modern dance in Kentucky, so I was curious to see what it was all about."
Getting a bit homesick in the big city, Hart decided she'd like to start a country band. Things fell into place at a Loretta Lynn tribute show, where Hart was approached by Woodward, who liked what he heard from Hart.
"He said, 'Man, we've got to start a Bluegrass band'," said Hart of Woodward's proposal that brought the Dixie Bee-Liners to life. "So he kind of dragged me along, kicking and screaming, and here we are three years later with all sorts of good things happening."
Hart doesn't sound like she has any regrets about the way things turned out -- "(Dance) was a great ticket out of the job market in Kentucky" -- but admits she often misses the "slower pace of things" here. Still, New York has its advantages.
"I love the people in New York, they're what's so fantastic about the city," said Hart. "You always meet new and exciting people. A lot of people are here for artistic reasons; half my [apartment] building it seems are musicians and filmmakers. It's always an adventure."
And because of the myriad examples of diversity there, New Yorkers are more accepting of so-called "Hillbilly Music" than one might think.
"It's a real interesting situation," said Hart. "They like their Bluegrass real straight and real traditional. So many people who love Klezmer music (Jewish folk music) also love Bluegrass, and those who play straight folk and straight country. There's such an interesting cross-polination -- New Yorkers have a broad spectrum of music they love: Country, Bluegrass, Classical, Afro-Cuban Jazz, you name it. They have a broad appreciation for diversity in music."
Different cultures have influenced Hart's music, too. Hart will tell you about how the music that came over from the British Isles played a hand in developing her art form, and one can definitely hear hints of Celtic sounds in the mix. This is the music of the "old country" -- America's version of the old country, that is.
Listeners will find the vocals to be sturdy and at times haunting -- these are no just-off-the-street warblers, their voices pack a wallop that sounds carefully honed, regardless of genre. The distinctive Bluegrass twang is there, with tricky and furious instrumentals that render you unable to keep from tapping your foot, even if you're not an avid fan of Appalachian sounds.
Hart apprenticed under several Bluegrass and Country purists in New York -- "until we realized that I was writing more songs than all my mentors put together!" she quipped. "When I first began working with Buddy, I still could barely play guitar. I had been writing all these songs without those skills, and I began to think, 'Boy oh boy, I need to bone up and become more self-sufficient.' So that was an interesting experience."
Now Hart plays rhythm guitar and Nashville -- or high-strung -- guitar, which has several strings an octave higher to create a "chimey effect," as Hart calls it. Woodward can go to town on a number of different instruments, and does so on their album, but perhaps his primary axe is his mandolin. Also with the Dixie Bee-Liners are Danny Weiss on lead guitar and fiddler Alan Gruber, as well as Terry McGill, Skip Ward, and Mike Levine.
Both Hart and Woodward are songwriters and singers as well, and draw inspiration from a wellspring of different and wonderful sources. Hart loves the idea of the "concept album" and is planning one called Flora and Fauna to come out in the near future, inspired by nature -- and said there was enough material in the works of Manly Wade Wellman to do one inspired by him.
"Wellman wrote a series of short stories and created the character of John the Balladeer, who went around fighting evil with a silver-strung guitar. It's kind of like Appalachian sci-fi," observed Hart, who based her song "Yellow-Haired Girl" on one of Wellman's characters. "Buddy ran across this book and said, 'You've got to read this -- I know you'll come up with all kinds of great song ideas.' There's so many ideas there about good vs. evil and Appalachian superstition, we could do a whole album just on that. And I intend to!"
The ideas are paying off. Besides the retail option with www.milesofmusic.com, the band recently made an appearance on BBC Radio Scotland. Woodward also appeared in Man of Constant Sorrow: The Story of the Stanley Brothers, which sold out virtually every night of its run in southwest Virginia. Also, The Dixie Bee-Liners were showcased at the International Bluegrass Music Association conference in Nashville last month -- to rave reviews.
"People were pretty excited about our music," said Hart. "It felt like a huge success to us. It was the first time outside of our own music community that we've been able to perform. It's nice to get industry acknowledgment, like 'Wow, you've got something different here'."
You can find out more about the Dixie Bee-Liners at their website, www.dixiebeeliners.com, and be sure to stop by for a spell and drop Hart a line -- "We love hearing from people," she said. Or you could go see the Dixie Bee-Liners in Owensboro at the International Bluegrass Music Museum next year and maybe, just maybe, at next year's Master Musician's Festival right here in Somerset.
For Hart, the prospect of that latter concert appearance would be a dream come true -- a sign of success mixed with a taste of home.
"Even though I've lived in New York for seven years, my whole life is (in Kentucky)," said the Bluegrass queen. "It's kind of like you don't know what you've got until it's gone."