The Great Dilemma: Dobro or Pedal Steel Guitar

Slowly but surely I seem to be working my way through the great music of the Fort Collins area, albeit in nice safe increments. This past weekend I saw 2 nights’ worth of music again. Friday night HWY(highway)287 and Bonnie and the Clydes were both playing- I’d met Darren Radach earlier at a Mama Lenny & the Remedy show, but only saw him briefly on stage then when he joined Mama Lenny to play harmonica for a song or two. I missed seeing him with HWY 287 that same week, so last Friday was the perfect opportunity to catch this band. Darren plays mandolin and sings with this band, and I always like hearing good mandolin playing.

I saw Bonnie and the Clydes, playing for a rather different crowd at an outdoor city street festival, where they played lots of fun covers with a few originals mixed in, but I was busy as a volunteer at that festival, and while I got some great photos of their show, I only actually heard parts of that show. I enjoyed what I heard then, of course, and have heard quite glowing praise of this band from other more seasoned music people in town, so the prospect of seeing them the same night as HWY 287 sounded great. It was a long night after an equally long week, and by the time the last song ended I was long past due for a nap, but It was still a great evening, and a lovely way to start a weekend.

I actually spent much of Friday night pondering which electronic instrument I want to start learning once I have an income to justify buying such a pricey toy. HWY 287 sports a Dobro-player, Ansel Foxley, so in between taking pictures of the rest of the band, who were all in better lighting, I spent quite a while watching Ansel and occasionally snapping a few more pictures. Since I only have 8 fingers and my wrists are fixed in place, I can’t play a regular guitar, mandolin or ukulele, especially not in standard positions. But, after watching Jerry Douglas this summer, and now Ansel Foxley as well, I think maybe I could manage to play Dobro the way these guys play it. These instruments look very cool, especially the all-metal shiny ones with the fancy grill-work. I’m pretty sure that the photo I really like of Neil Byrne sitting on the very green bank of a stream holding a very shiny green-looking guitar is in fact Neil holding the sort of Dobro/ reverberator guitar I particularly like the looks of.

Of course, if that was all I was considering Friday night there would be no dilemma. But, in the second band, Bonnie and the Clydes, Chris Ramey plays a pedal steel guitar. I don’t know how I managed to go most of 30 years without knowing these fantastic instruments existed, but I only ‘discovered’ them in the past year. These instruments are like low tables, with the stuff of electric guitars embedded in them. I’ve known a very wee bit about electric guitars and how they work ever since reading Brian May’s blog posts a few years ago, but I’m still fascinated every time I see a real pedal guitar, and hear guitar like noises coming from such an odd-looking contraption.

Dobros look flashier, but I’m pretty sure I’d have an easier time learning to play the pedal steel guitar. And, yes, I spent a lot of time staring at Chris when he was playing his instrument at this show Friday night, studying how his hands move when he plays it. Watch out Universe, because whenever I find myself able to justify the expense I may very well be annoying the planet not just by singing along to practically every song I listen to, whistling along to whatever I can’t sing, but I may also be able to play my own instrumental accompaniment. 🙂

If this should in fact come to pass, Don’t blame either of these bands. They are both excellent, playing at the edge of country music where it meets alternative rock, bluegrass and whatever we are calling the music from the era before there were so many genre labels. Bonnie sings with a bit of a Southern accent, especially when she gets really into it, so on some songs her band could make you think you’ve been transported to a proper country bar, but overall both of these bands played a show you would not have to be a country fan to enjoy. Both bands can, and do, cover lots of classic country tunes, but their versions tend to be played for a contemporary audience, as straightforward music, no genre labeling required. Even in my anti-Country high school days, I would not have found this stuff outside my range of enjoyable music. The few songs they play that really are 100% country music are unlikely to make most Country-music haters run for the door, and for those of us who have come to terms with country music, either of these bands is well worth seeing.

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About Ravenmount

Independent science nerd/writer/music blogger/arts enthusiast/theorist currently in Colorado.
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