Newgrass: America reconnecting with its musical roots

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photo courtesy of the band

Local band Brian Laidlaw & the Family Trade is just one example of the resurgence of folk and progressive bluegrass music on the local and national music scene.

Jenny Krane, Staff Writer

“Folk music is perpetually out of style,” singer-songwriter Brian Laidlaw said.

Brian Laidlaw & the Family Trade, one of many folk and newgrass bands in the current music scene, have embraced their roots by finding inspiration in the music they and their parents grew up on. As a local band, they represent the growing trend of updating bluegrass and folk in music.

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American roots music typically stays in limbo between out of style and in style, but always exists in the music scene in some way: “Folk is a backlash against loud, angry rock music, and the natural whiplash is to go back to the roots,” drummer Sean Geraty said.

Though this genre of music is popular all over the United States, the Midwest––particularly Minnesota––produces a lot of quality updated folk and bluegrass music, attracting artists from all over. “Part of the reason I moved here is because folk music does well here,” Laidlaw said. “This is the right place for that type of music.”

Brian Laidlaw & the Family Trade is one local version of the greater trend in music––genres like newgrass (progressive bluegrass) and alternative and indie folk have overtaken the music scene in the last few years. “There’s always something very close to folk music that is very trendy,” Laidlaw said.

Folk requires a different kind of listening, a different kind of emotion. A lot of people are ready to have an emotional and intellectual relationship with a song.”

— Brian Laidlaw

With a violin, a cello, a bass, drums, and an acoustic guitar, the band plays with a classic folk sound. “We like to play songs that feel like they could have been written any time in the last hundred years,” Laidlaw said.

Though they have a classic sound, Brian Laidlaw & the Family Trade set themselves apart from other bands with their lyrics. “This band is different in the way that it’s not as sonically progressive, but is lyrically progressive,” Laidlaw said. Laidlaw writes the songs for the band and studied poetry in college.

Because of his poetic lyrics and love for what he calls “pretty music,” Laidlaw turned to folk early in his music career. “Folk music is good for lyric driven songs––the light touch of the Family Trade, and folk music in general, is well suited for that,” Laidlaw said.

“Folk requires a different kind of listening, a different kind of emotion,” Laidlaw said. “A lot of people are ready to have an emotional and intellectual relationship with a song.”

Brian Laidlaw & the Family Trade began as a folk band, then realized the popularity of their genre as bands like Bon Iver and The Decemberists grew successful. “It was encouraging to see the success [of other folk bands],” Laidlaw said, “We have always been a folk band––it was just a happy accident that this is becoming more hip.”

The group became a band through friends sharing music––as the members grew closer and played together more, the band just formed unplanned. “It was all very natural,” Laidlaw said.

For many folk and bluegrass artists, roots music speaks to them because it’s nostalgic; being raised on artists like Neil Young and James Taylor, these genres are a reminder of their parents and their childhood. “I’ve always connected with folk because it felt like the music I grew up with,” Geraty said.

Newgrass genres contain music that is accessible, which allows it to connect to common people; this contributes to the growing trend of this type of music in the current music scene. “Folk music is not just sonic––folk music at its core is music for the common folk,” Laidlaw said.