Tossing A Line With The Keels

Larry and Jenny are the husband and wife duo known for projects including Natural Bridge, Keller & The Keels, and performances of Jeff Austin’s The Here & Now. They were nice enough to respond to a few questions from JamGrass.net leading up to their performances opening for Greensky Bluegrass at Terminal West in Atlanta and Sam Bush at Georgia Theatre in Athens.

JamGrass.net: I really enjoyed the performance of Larry Keel’s Acoustic Power Trio in Clarkesville, GA and it seems you guys had a great time, too. How do you stay upbeat given the range of venues and audience sizes you face during the year?

Larry Keel: Well, we thoroughly love what we do! We’ve had plenty of twists and turns in the road for the past twenty years that could have steered us away from being full-time, professional touring musicians… but that’s all we know we want to do as a career and we’ve dedicated ourselves to it (I’m speaking for jenny and myself, at least). We’ve got a great band and crew to travel with, a great team that manages and does the office stuff, and endless opportunities to play music with great artists and acts all over the place. Always something fresh and new to experience, no matter what the setting.

JamGrass.net: On Friday 3/21, you play with Sam Bush at the Georgia Theatre in Athens. I assume your relationship with Sam goes back a ways. What are some of the highlights?

Larry Keel: Sam and I have had a few very good, mutual friends in common (promoters, musicians) for a long long time, it just took a while for us to finally meet and connect. But that’s been a dozen or more years now, since [then] we’ve gotten to know each other and played together numerous times. Some highlights of some killer jams we’ve gotten on together would be me and him and Darol Scott doing a set at Appalachian Uprising in OH a few years ago, Sam getting up with my band Natural Bridge at Grand Targhee Fest in WY to play Leon Russell’s “Manhattan Island Serenade” (Sam played in Leon’s band for many years back in the 70’s and early 80’s), and me and Sam joining the Del McCoury band at a black tie affair showcase in Nashville one time. He had a giant leg cast on, under his tux. Still crushing it even with a broken leg. Getting to meet his Dad and listen to cassette tapes of great Texas fiddlers that his Dad likes, sitting in his truck in a diner parking lot in KY. There’ve been so many encounters – Telluride, Arkansas, Florida, etc… he’s without a doubt one of my biggest heroes and influences in pioneering progressive bluegrass.

JamGrass.net: Thursday 3/20 brings the Keels to Atlanta for a date with Greensky Bluegrass. Any special memories playing with anyone from Greensky?

Jenny Keel: We’ve known those guys since their very first foray into becoming a touring band. We (Larry Keel Experience) were playing a club in a ski town in Colorado… I think it was Steamboat or Breckenridge.  The promoter had put Greensky on as our opening act. They were super cool, very young Michigan hippy pickers, and they were super fired up to play with us. They said they knew all about Larry’s playing and knew he had won Telluride Bluegrass Fest guitar contest. We encouraged them to go to Telluride to compete in their band contest, and they did that next summer and won it! We’ve been buddies ever since, and our paths have crossed tons of times over the years. We’re so proud of them and and their accomplishments. They’re putting out wonderful new music and stellar shows. Can’t wait to merge forces again coming up in Atlanta.

JamGrass.net: You’re a seasoned veteran in the bluegrass industry. What are the most significant changes you’ve observed, positive or negative?

I’ve been seeing a lot of younger bluegrass-instrumentation bands covering non-bluegrass material, along with playing standards from the string band repertoire. They might play cover tunes that are very familiar to the young audiences they’re playing to, or current-sounding original material. By doing this, these bands are helping to expand the audience for bluegrass, getting those listeners’ attention so they’ll also take in traditional tunes when they hear them. This results in preserving bluegrass music, which has always been my approach and my goal entirely. Bands like Greensky Bluegrass, Yonder Mountain String Band, and Leftover Salmon are playing to far bigger crowds than the average traditional bluegrass band. That kind of exposure for bluegrass music is helpful to the cause.

JamGrass.net: You’re an avid fisherman. If you could only keep one rod and reel, what would it be and why?

Larry Keel: I’d keep a 6’2″ medium action, one-piece graphite rod with a Pflueger Ambassadeur reel, 8 pound fluorocarbon line, and a wacky rig worm. This set up will catch anything, anywhere. Tried and tested positive.

Larry and Jenny Keel are always on tour in one way or another. Check out their tour page for an updated schedule, including multiple performances (and Larry doing a Jerry Garcia tribute set!) at Aiken Bluegrass Festival May 9-10. Support the Keels and JamGrass.net by shopping for their music at Amazon.com or iTunes, preview below from Spotify!

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