The 20th Didmarton Bluegrass Festival takes place between August 29th and 31st at Kemble Airfield, near Cirencester, and will feature a line-up of bands from the USA, Europe and Great Britain. Over two decades the event has grown from a small-scale gathering at a pub to arguably the biggest weekend on the UK bluegrass calendar.
Headliners this year are Texas five-piece Cadillac Sky who release their second album, Gravity’s Our Enemy, on August 19th. We spoke to the band’s singer and mandolin player Bryan Simpson about the new record and their upcoming visit to England.
Cadillac Sky, formed in 2002, are Bryan Simpson (mandolin), Ross Holmes (fiddle), Andy Moritz (bass), Mike Jump (guitar) and Matt Menefee (banjo). A small-scale independent release, Talent Show, came in 2003 before the band signed for Skaggs Family Records.
Their first proper release – Blind Man Walking – followed in 2007. The CD, with its alternative rock-tinged take on the traditional bluegrass sound, was a huge success and has earnt the band two IBMA Award nominations for Emerging Artist. The group has been constantly touring since then before entering the studio earlier this year to record Gravity’s Our Enemy.
Bryan and the band are pleased with the outcome. “Yeah, I am happy with the new CD – really excited to share this big piece of music with the world,” Bryan tells us. “It will be interesting to see what people think. I mean, all we’re trying to do is make music that we like.”
Bryan, as well as being singer and mandolin player in the band, is also the main songwriter. His skills have been recognised outside of the band with his songs being recorded by various country artists. His inspiration can come from real life situations or sometimes the slightly more surreal. He tells us how Andy Falco of The Infamous Stringdusters gave him a bit of help with one of the new songs. “He walked into one of my dreams, sort of Bob Dylan style – guitar thrown around his neck, blowing on a harp, humming the melody of the first few bars of The Wreck. I woke up wishing I had written that, around 4 in the morning, only to realize I could still write it – so I did.”
The new recording was produced by mandolinist Mike Marshall who was excited about the project when ukbluegrass interviewed him back in February. What did the band think of him? “Mike is the man! Official guru of C-Sky! He was an awesome presence to have in the studio – just real laid back – but very focused,” enthuses Bryan. “He was the there in the studio while we were tracking every minute that we were in there – and trust me, that is not a given when it comes to producers. He’s just got such great vision, and co-producing this record with him was priceless.”
Blind Man Walking was a brave statement for a new band still looking to find an audience. It covered all sorts of genres and influences from the gospel of Sinners Welcome to the rock-style ballad of Homesick Angel and the near pop of Insomniac Blues For Matthew and Motel Morning. Bluegrass was not lost in the mix, with the album’s stand-out moment being Never Been So Blue – a heart-rending tribute to Bill Monroe. How does the new CD compare to their first offering?
“I do know that it is a different record than Blind Man Walking – which we made three years ago almost to the date of Gravity’s Our Enemy‘s release date,” says Bryan. “We’ve been travelling, basically tied to each other’s hips for the last three years – playing together, listening to music together, learning each other better – and I think you can hear a greater trust on this record, and a different kind of spirit that comes from everybody feeling so invested in this project.
“I think this is the most colourful record we’ve ever made,” he continues. “Blind Man Walking has a great spirit about it – has a certain youthful exuberance about it – and we didn’t want to lose that for sure on our sophomore release. We just wanted to add to that more layers, and throw more colours on the canvas.”
After months of relentless touring in the States, Cadillac Sky will make their first British appearance at Didmarton. The band are excited about the upcoming visit. “I am looking forward to getting know as many people as our time there will allow,” Bryan says. “That’s my favourite thing about travelling around, other than that hour and a half on stage – meeting people, and getting to be a part of their lives if only for a brief moment. To borrow from Matt, our banjo player, ‘Humans are amazing’.”
The band have developed something of a reputation for putting on an energetic, exciting show. Bryan told us what Didmarton attendees can expect from their performance. “It will be very ‘live’,” he says. “Hopefully they’ll be able to feel it breathing as we perform. And they should come expecting to have a good time – those are always the shows that turn out the most memorable for us – when the crowd just turns everything else off, and just lives in the moment with us.”
You can buy Cadillac Sky’s albums from Amazon.co.uk at the following links: