The Seldom Scene’s 40th anniversary show this week at The Birchmere will be nostalgic in more ways than one.
Not only will the band be celebrating four decades of making bluegrass music – a city style of the country sound not afraid to be a little progressive and a little bit rock and roll – but they’ll be doing it at the music hall that hosted its long-running weekly performances in the earlier days of its career.
The band currently features the talents of Dudley Connell, Ronnie Simpkins, Lou Reid, Fred Travers, and Ben Eldridge, but has hosted a dozen well-known area musicians in its lineup.
Ben Eldridge, the sole remaining founding member performing with the band, formed with John Duffey, Mike Auldridge, Tom Gray and John Starling a band that would persevere. The band not only survived numerous casting changes and the death of Duffey in 1996, but thrived, growing from basement jam session roots to become a Grammy-nominated act (the nod coming for its 2007 album Scenechronized in the Best Bluegrass Album category).
For its 40th anniversary show Saturday, the band will be inviting the surviving founding members back to play, and will be sharing tales about the band’s history in a special storytelling section of the program.
The News-Press spoke to Connell, a member of the band since 1995, about his piece of the Seldom Scene history and where the band will go from here.
LP: Were you aware of the band’s history before you started?
DC: I couldn’t have escaped it if I wanted to. I’ve played music around Washington, D.C. for many years, and when I was learning to play, The Seldom Scene was probably one of the most popular bands in the area.
LP: What was it like joining a band that already had such a long history?
DC: It was a thrill – and I tell you, I had always run a band – and to go to work with a hero like John Duffey, it was very exciting. I learned a lot, not only about music but about the music business.
LP: Did you think starting out that you’d be with the band this long?
DC: Actually, no, and especially not when John Duffey passed away in 1996. He was kind of the group leader, and I really didn’t think the band would survive that, but we contacted all the promoters, and all but two still wanted the band.
LP: What have been some of the highlights of your time with the band?
DC: We were nominated for a Grammy a couple years back. We didn’t win, but it was a thrill to be out there.
LP: What was it like?
DC: It was pretty exciting. The record company just called me one day and said we were on the list, so we flew to Los Angeles and went to fancy parties and dressed in fancy clothes – it was really thrilling.
LP: If there is a secret to longevity that you’ve learned during your time with the band, what is it?
DC: We give each other space – like we don’t ride together in a bus and we don’t share hotel rooms. I think that has actually helped us a lot.
LP: What plans for the future does the band have?
DC: I think we’ll record another record this winter, and we’ll book some dates, and it looks like we’re going to have a busy summer. We don’t work a lot – most of the guys in the band have day jobs and other commitments, so we don’t get on the tour bus and get out for weeks on end, and we like it like that.
• For more information about The Seldom Scene, visit seldomscene.com.