A quintet of talented musicians traveled to Shelter Island from Massachussets last weekend to perform in Sylvester Manor’s annual bluegrass concert. The January concert is a long-standing Island tradition and it takes place each year in the school auditorium. Tom Hashagen, who organizes the concerts for Sylvester Manor, has developed a knack for finding the hottest young bluegrass bands on the circuit today — and Saturday’s concert was no exception.
Boston-based band Mile Twelve is made up of guitar player and singer Evan Murphy of Milton, Massachusetts; mandolin player David Benedict of Clemson, South Carolina; banjo master Catherine “BB” Bowness from far off New Zealand; and two graduates of Boston’s Berklee School of Music — bass player Nate Sabat of New York City and fiddle player Bronwyn Keith-Hynes of Charlottesville, Virginia.
Together, they are finding great success as a traditional music band. This past fall, Mile Twelve received the International Bluegrass Association’s 2017 Band Momentum Award and early in 2017, they hosted a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised enough money for them to travel to Nashville, Tennessee where they recorded “Onwards,” their debut CD which was released last fall.
Saturday’s concert before a packed house began with some tunes by “Tom & Lisa,” Tom Hashagen on guitar, wife, Lisa Shaw, on keyboards, Bryan Gutman on bass guitar and Scott Hewett on drums. Mile Twelve’s Mr. Benedict jumped in on mandolin as well.
Then the main act took the stage and Mile Twelve peformed classic bluegrass along with many of their creative originals from “Onwards.” Among them was “The Margaret Keene,” a New England-inspired tune which tells the tale of a young couple living in a city by the sea who give up their apartment for the summer to go work on a fishing boat. A modern-day ballad of lost love, the lyrics tell of heavy seas and abject fear on the part of the young man. His significant other, however, relishes the danger and thrill of life on the ocean, and as he steps back on terra firma, vowing never to go to sea again, he realizes she will, conversely, never return to join him on shore.
Mile Twelve also offered a few surprises throughout the evening, including a rousing bluegrass rendition of the Allman Brothers hit “Ramblin’ Man” and an unlikely “banjo as piano” take on Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” with fiddle-player Ms. Keith-Hynes drawing her bow across the strings to create the unearthly sound rendered by the slide guitar in the original recording.
At the end of the evening, Mile Twelve left the audience wanting more, and on Monday, Mr. Hashagen attested that there was, indeed, more to come for a small group of music lovers who headed back to his place for chili and music making into the wee hours on Sunday morning.