Local bluegrass band Well Strung earns fans, First Tap stage

Local bluegrass and country band Well Strung has recently earned local fans, and the stage at Bear Tooth Theatre Pub’s April 5 First Tap.

Well Strung will be featured at the 9 p.m. event where the brewery will introduce this month’s new beer, Dientee Del Oso. The group landed the gig after recently gaining a greater following in Anchorage.

“We try to keep our options open to what the community wants to hear,” Moose’s Tooth general manager Dan Fiacco said. “A lot of people in the community have been talking about how they think they would be a great fit at the First Tap, so I thought I’d give it a go.”

Well Strung will start the night with a bluegrass set, and then bring in the drums and pedal steel guitar to move into their country and country-rock tunes for the last half.

“We are morphing from one band to the next,” Todd Grebe, the band’s manager and guitarist, said. Grebe is a political science major who has been attending UAA on and off for the last 8 years.

Fiacco said the Bear Tooth tries to host a span of genres at First Tap. This will be one of several bluegrass groups that have visited the popular stage. He said he’s excited to see a new group play the venue.

“At this point in time, Well Strung is pretty popular in the community,” Fiacco said.

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Anchorage wasn’t always welcoming toward the band. For the last five years, most of Well Strung’s concerts have been in communities outside of Anchorage, where Grebe said bluegrass music has a greater following.

But Well Strung has worked to bring acoustic music to the forefront in Anchorage. Recently, they’ve been playing every Wednesday after 7 p.m. at the Snow Goose Restaurant, where they’ve gained local fans. The time commitment paid off. Just a little over a month ago they were contacted to play at First Tap.

Becoming well strung

The band’s original bass player invented Well Strung’s name. Grebe said the funny thing is that at first they weren’t well strung together at all. As the group evolved with new talent and more experience, the music has grown to live up to its name.

“From the first time I heard them to recently, I think they’ve really progressed,” Fiacco said.

Well Strung was born five years ago, but the group looked very different then. The only remaining member from the original band Grebe started with is mandolin player Connor McManamin, who attended UAA for three years as a natural science major.

The band’s other members bring a variety of unique talents. Dan Booth has played upright bass with the band for three years. He graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Portland and now works construction locally.

Greg Booth, Dan’s father, has played banjo, dobro (a guitar with a special design for extra resonance) and pedal steel guitar as a member for a year. He won the Rocky Grass dobro picking competition last year after only playing the instrument one year. He describes the unique instrument as having a haunting vocal sound that can incorporate vibrato and blues.

“Most people who play say that it is most like the voice of any of the string instruments,” Greg Booth said.

Dan’s new interest in bluegrass gave his father a second wind for playing after he was burned out from 25 years of playing in bars and clubs. The father-son combo gets along well, said Well Strung fiddler Angela Oudean.

Greg Booth said, “We find ourselves thinking the same thing musically a lot.”

Oudean joined Well Strung a year and a half ago after finding it was the only youthful bluegrass band in Anchorage. She enjoys having the opportunity to play every week. Her mother plays in Lost Riders, who opened for Well Strung at Snow Goose March 21.

Finding fans

Well Strung hopes to produce a live CD in April, using performances from concerts at Snow Goose and possibly First Tap. This will be Well Strung’s first CD, partially due to this being the first time they’ve had the same members for a year.

Having committed members gave Greg the opportunity to approach Snow Goose with the proposition of playing regularly in the upstairs bar. The weekly performance has gained such a following that on March 14 the band asked from the stage if the crowd would mind a cover charge. The audience reacted positively, so the next week they charged $3 a person to enter the bar. Charging a few bucks didn’t stop the bar from filling up. Every seat in sight of the stage was taken, and some people stood in front of the bar to watch.

Justin Banta, a friend to many of the band members, was at Snow Goose for a Well Strung performance on March 21. He said the blend of voices in the group is great. Every member can sing, but he thinks Dan’s voice is exceptional.

“I love them,” said fan Bryn Cunningham, also at the concert that night. He is a big bluegrass fan, and, as a musician who plays mandolin and guitar, he appreciates Well Strung’s sound.

Grebe describes their music as rowdy, traditional-sounding country and bluegrass. He has written several songs for Well Strung and Dan has also contributed a few, making 25 percent of their music original. The band wants to continue to create their own music.

The growing local support will make life a little easier on Well Strung members who had to make time-consuming drives in the past. The band looks at First Tap as another opportunity to progress.

“This is another milestone for us,” Grebe said.

Fiacco said, “A lot of people are excited about playing First Tap because there’s usually a pretty good turnout. (It) is pretty fun for the band to play in front of a large group and get their name a little more recognized.”

First Tap is open to the 21-and-over crowd. General admission is $12. Pilot Cracker Playboys, a bluegrass band gaining in popularity, will open for Well Strung. For more information, visit www.beartooththeatre.net/events.html.