A new music director heads the National Symphony Orchestra for its 2017-2018 season. What will his leadership mean for the local institution?
It’s a surprise to some: Washington is home to a thriving bluegrass community, with bands that are getting attention beyond our region. Local bluegrass band Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen recently signed with an independent Nashville record label. They’re also celebrating three “Wammie” awards and a new album. They join us to play some tunes from that album, “On the Edge.”
- Frank Solivan Lead vocals and mandolin, Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen
- Mike Munford Banjo, Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen
- Danny Booth Bass, Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen
- Chris Luquette Acoustic guitar, Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen
Video: Inside The Studio
Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen perform “The Letter” from their new album, “On the Edge.”
Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen perform “Trouble, Trouble, Trouble” on The Katy Daley Show at WAMU’s Bluegrass Country in Washington, D.C.
Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen perform “Good Morning Country Rain” at a house concert in Sharon, Mass.
Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen perform “M-80” on The Katy Daley Show at WAMU’s Bluegrass Country in Washington, D.C.
MR. KOJO NNAMDITo surprises people to learn that our region's got a thriving bluegrass tradition, and there's one local group that's helping put D.C. on the bluegrass map. Fans know Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen for their original tunes as well as their take on bluegrass classics. They took home three Wammy Awards this year from the Washington Area Music Association, including one for best bluegrass band.
MR. KOJO NNAMDILead man Frank Solivan took two more of those awards. He's backed by a talented group of banjo, bass and acoustic guitar players. The group's getting noticed way beyond D.C. They just signed with a big Nashville label. They've got a new album out and they're here to share some of their tunes with us. First some brief conversation. Frank Solivan, good to see you.
MR. FRANK SOLIVANNice to see you too. Thanks for having us back.
NNAMDIYou have had a lot going on since we saw you last. As we mentioned, you recently signed onto a new label. Tell us about Compass Records and what it means for the band.
SOLIVANWell, Compass Records is a wonderful Indie label out of Nashville. And really excited to be with them. They -- our deal -- it's great, you know. We had some trouble trying to get our record out financially or whatever -- well, I shouldn't say trouble but we wanted to really expand. And when they gave us an opportunity to put this record out, I kind of jumped at it. They're pretty well known, you know. And they have great distribution. And I find it to be...
NNAMDIWell, speak for a long time because I'm chewing down on your meatballs.
SOLIVANOh yeah, enjoy man. Well, okay. Well, I can tell you, you know, we're psyched to celebrate this...
NNAMDIWell, you've been busy. You won the -- go ahead.
SOLIVANI was just going to say, we're psyched to celebrate this record release. We're going to have a big party on April 20th. I'm doing also a cooking class on April 18th and then a big celebration for the public, free to the public concert on the 21st, all held at the Hill Center. And my whole thing is really kind of bringing food -- or bringing people together through food and music. And, you know, we created the Dirty Kitchen experience to share our vibe with fans. And a lot of times they end up being our friends.
SOLIVANAnd before we signed with Compass actually, we had hoped to raise all the money for the album through fan and crowd sourcing, like a kick starter or pledge campaign where, you know, they offer -- we offer rewards for people that contribute funds to help us get the record out, like autographed CDs, etcetera. And this experience that we're going to do on the 20th is kind of like a big deal. It's our way to celebrate with our friends and family. It's a -- we're going to provide a three-course meal prepared by me. And...
NNAMDIYes. I'm tasting some of Frank's cooking right now, which is why you're not hearing me talking. As Frank mentioned, he and Dirty Kitchen will be playing at the Hill Center at the old naval hospital in Southeast D.C. on April 21st, 5:30 pm. That concert is free and open to the public and you can find a link at our website, kojoshow.org. You won the Wammy for best bluegrass band again.
SOLIVANHow about that?
NNAMDIYou won last year. How do you feel about that?
SOLIVANOh, it's awesome. We're excited about it. Yea.
NNAMDIAnd you won personally for best bluegrass vocalist and instrumentalist. What do these awards mean for you?
SOLIVANOh, it's just an honor to be recognized for something that I've been putting so much energy and time into my whole life, you know. And to be recognized in the Washington area is huge. And it's great for the band, you know. It's kind of put a little mark on the old resume, you know. It's a beautiful thing for sure. And just honored to be in that spot and, you know, playing around enough to be able to get our music out there so people do recognize it, you know.
NNAMDIYour new album "On The Edge" is already getting some buzz, although our bluegrass folks here at the station say they have yet to lay their hands on a copy. But, hey, hey, I got one.
SOLIVANThey got one today. I made sure...
NNAMDIOh, come on.
SOLIVANYeah, y'all got one at the same time.
SOLIVANAnd Jerrod's waving his through the window in there. Nice.
MR. MIKE MUNFORDYou could run off copies of that if you want.
NNAMDIWill somebody please put Jerrod out of that studio.
SOLIVANWell, you mentioned the Hill Center and all these events that we're doing at the Hill Center. It's a new vibrant community center. And they have classes there, they have concerts, they have a great concert -- little concert hall. And they -- you know, I'm doing a cooking class. They have an awesome demo kitchen. I'm doing a cooking class there on April 18th.
NNAMDIYes, loves to cook. Well, one cover tune on this album is a favorite by the BoxTops.
NNAMDIEverybody knows "The Letter" but they don't know your version. So can you play it for us?
SOLIVANYou got it man.
NNAMDI"The Letter," Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen. That song was written before you were born, Frank.
NNAMDIWhat makes it so special?
SOLIVANWell, I've always like that song, and I recorded that on another record when I -- I produced a record for this young lady, and it didn't get much airplay, and it didn't get played very much, and this is kind of like my arrangement or whatever, and we expounded on that arrangement to make it our arrangement, and so now I think it's -- it's definitely Dirty Kitchen music.
NNAMDIOh, it's your -- your arrangement. It's definitely special even though everybody else was singing along with the lyrics. Your arrangement is what makes it so good. This album has got some original tunes as well as some songs not previously released, and you've got a few guests singing on this album. Tell us about that.
SOLIVANI do. I have -- Tim O'Brien came in and sang harmony with us on the title track, "On the Edge," and my cousin Megan McCormick wrote one of the pieces called "Gone," which we'll probably play later.
SOLIVANAnd she came in to sing harmony, and another friend of ours named Rob Ickes came in to dobro on it, and -- along with our band here, Chris Luquette on the guitar...
NNAMDIOh, wait a minute, you've got two new band members since the group joined us last time.
NNAMDIOf course, Mike is back. We all know Mike Munford. He is Dirty Kitchen's banjo player.
MUNFORDHey there. Hey Kojo, good to see you again.
NNAMDIAll right. Who are your two new members?
SOLIVANWell, from Seattle, Wa., or Renton, Wa., actually, right outside of Seattle is Chris Luquette slinging the guitar over here, playing the fire out of, and holding down the harmonic and tonic underpinning from Anchorage, Ak., I met this young man when we moved up there -- or when I moved there when I was 18, and got to watch him grow into an incredible picker and singer and songwriter, on the bass, Danny Booth from Anchorage, Ak.
NNAMDIDanny, you grew up, as Frank was saying, outside Anchorage, Ak., in a family of bluegrass musicians.
MR. DANNY BOOTHThat's right.
NNAMDINow, if Washington D.C. is surprising place to find bluegrass, Alaska would seem to be the last place that bluegrass would turn up, and yet that's where you met Frank. So what's the Alaska connection?
UNIDENTIFIED MANIt is the last place.
BOOTHWell, like he said, Frank said -- Frank moved up there when he was 18 and he played a lot music with my dad, and my dad is an incredible banjo and pedal steel guitar player, and now incredible dobro player, and so they were always coming over to the house and, you know, a lot of people don't think of bluegrass, or Alaska as a bluegrass state, but it is mountain music and we have the biggest mountains there are.
NNAMDIAnd your dad, Greg, met some 18 year old fiddler, mandolinist named Frank Solivan?
SOLIVANYeah. And we started this bank called Rank Strangers.
BOOTHYeah. Way back in the day.
MANThe primordial goo.
MANThe primordial goo exactly.
NNAMDIMike Munford, of course, is the veteran of the group. It's my understanding, Frank, that Mike is the guy everyone turns to for anything and everything having to do with the banjo.
SOLIVANI could probably honestly say that anybody who needs a set up in the mid-Atlantic region or even beyond, knows about Mike's, you know, set up work on banjos, and, oh, you had your banjo set up by Mike Munford, oh that's...
MUNFORDIn fact, I need to get it set up by me.
MANI mean, he's even gone up to Steve Martin's place in New York and spread out, you know, Steve Martin's banjo parts all over the coffee table and work on his banjos and Bela Fleck and who all.
NNAMDIWell, before we talk about Chris some more, let me...
MUNFORDThose were my two customers that year. Yes they were.
NNAMDIBefore we talk about...
MANDid you put your notes in their banjos, Mike? You got some crazy notes up in (word?) man. I want to know if you put them in there.
NNAMDIMike, you also wrote a song for this new album. Tell us a little bit about "M-80."
MUNFORD"M-80." Well, it actually was written right here in -- at the Washington -- at the Mall. Not the mall out there in Tyson's corner, but the one over here.
MANBy the shoes or the...
MUNFORDBy the -- yeah, by the shoe department right there. No. It was right on fourth of July during this -- I guess during the Folk Life Festival. I was playing there maybe ten years or so ago with a band, and before we went on, I was just kind of playing around with a couple of licks, couple of ideas, and this occurred to me, and it seemed like kind of a fiery tune, and it was around the fourth of July, and I always enjoyed playing with fireworks, maybe a little too much, and enjoyed the hammerheads and M-80s.
SOLIVANLuckily he's got most of his fingers left.
MANMost of his fingers did survive, you know, the kind of shenanigans that a 10-year-old comes up with (unintelligible) hey, don't do that at home kids. But that's where it actually came from, M-80. We're doing it (unintelligible) .
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that beyond your talents playing the banjo, you're an encyclopedia of banjo trivia.
MUNFORDWell, it depends on how thick an encyclopedia we're talking about. But in small corners of the earth, I might have picked up a few things over -- coming on 40 years playing now. So yeah, it accumulates.
NNAMDIAnd as I said, we'll talk...
MANHe's being humble.
NNAMDIWe'll talk with Chris in a little while, but Frank, back to you for second one.
NNAMDIOne song, the one you mentioned that your cousin Megan McCormick wrote, it's called "Gone." Can you play that for us?
SOLIVANOh, I'd love too, yeah. It's a wonderful piece that, you know, she wrote to kind of have drums and electric bass and electric guitar on. But we decided to do it our style -- Dirty Kitchen style.
NNAMDIFrank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen playing, and Kojo dancing and eating.
NNAMDIFrank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, "Gone," written by his cousin Megan McCormick. That doesn't sound like a traditional bluegrass song. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
SOLIVANYeah. I think it maybe leans now, with our style, kind of more towards the newgrass...
NNAMDIThat's a subgenre, right, newgrass. What's that?
SOLIVANWell, newgrass, the father of newgrass music, Sam Bush, you know, had this band called Newgrass Revival, and, you know, through '70s and '80s, and it was a big influence on me when I started playing. I saw them play live for the first time, I think when I was about nine years old, and I saw what the mandolin, banjo, guitar, and bass could do, because I was raised around those instruments, and I saw the possibilities, you know, of what those instruments, like I say could do.
SOLIVANAnd I just kind of wanted to expound on the traditional, and, you know, what you hear today is the culmination of all of our, you know, life listening to music and different kinds of music and coming together as a group and playing, you know, what you hear now.
NNAMDIThat's Frank Solivan. He leads the bluegrass band Dirty Kitchen. He sings lead vocals and plays the mandolin. Also joining in studio is Mike Munford. He's the banjo player. Danny Booth play bass, and Chris Luquette plays acoustic guitar for the group. Chris, you're from Seattle. Come over the microphone. Is there a bluegrass in Seattle?
MR. CHRIS LUQUETTEYes. There is a huge bluegrass scene. There is any scene, any style of music or art that you want, and can find, it's there in Seattle which is an amazing place to be from.
NNAMDINot to mention -- not to mention a gazillion Starbucks. It's my understanding that you're comfortable playing everything from Brazilian jazz to rock. What drew you to bluegrass?
LUQUETTEWhen I was younger, learning to play, I studied all sorts of music. Brazilian jazz, I was lucky to study with the great musician Joe Vinos Santos Nato (sp?) in Seattle, and I've played rock and learned bluegrass, and when I was playing that, I wanted to put a band together. And I found a bunch of kind of kids around my age and could never get them to play rock or blues or anything. They just -- they didn't want to show up, they didn't want to play, they didn't -- you know, they'd just come around, mess around and would rather watch a movie than play music.
LUQUETTESo I kind of got frustrated, and about that time I actually kind of discovered bluegrass through bands like the Grateful Dead and such, and I was learning to play some bluegrass, and I found a sign for a bluegrass jam at a senior center, and I went down there and I found people to play with, and they've supported me to this day from that same jam. And I just -- I love the -- I love the music, of course, but I also love the community, and the ability to go to a festival and come around the corner and see somebody like Frank and well, let's just sit down and play some tunes and what do you know, a few years later you're in Washington D.C. playing, you know, here and now, you know. And it's an amazing -- amazing community to be in for sure.
NNAMDIFound his new musical home he did. Frank, musicians tend not to be strict about little things like schedules and time. We were happy to see that your band always arrives here in time for the show, but Frank, unlike a lot of musicians, you yourself are always on time period. It's my understanding that that may be the result of your years playing for the Navy Band. Can you talk about that?
SOLIVANYeah. I always like to be punctual. I've -- even before the Navy Band, but that solidified some things for me.
MANSpeaking of punctual, I gotta go move my car. I'll be right back.
NNAMDIYeah. Right. We all know about parking in D.C.
SOLIVANYeah. Parking in D.C.
MANThe meter maids are punctual.
SOLIVANYeah. The meter maids are awfully punctual around here. Anyway, no. The Navy Band was a great experience for sure. I did six years with them, the country and bluegrass group called Country Current, and it was a wonderful experience. It kind of set me up to be able to do my own thing and, you know, I needed to move on and make music, and I felt like there I was not being creative as I could have been, and so I had to move on, and what you hear now is like I say -- said earlier, a culmination of some of that as well.
NNAMDIYou grew up in a very musical family. You mentioned your cousin Megan who wrote and sang also for this album. Your whole family plays and sings.
SOLIVANThat's true. My dad is 9 of 10 kids. All of his brothers and sisters play. My mom's side, she plays guitar and sings and her brother sings, and actually my grandmother on my father's side did some vaudeville acts and she was a tumbler and kind of an acrobatic and played violin and mandolin, and I never got to really know her or connect musically with her. She passed away when I was in kindergarten, so I feel like I'm -- and I'm the only one that really plays mandolin and violin in my family, so I feel like I'm carrying that torch, you know, and being able to carry her spirit.
NNAMDIWell, there's prerequisite apparently being a musician for being in your family, but you didn't exactly grow up in bluegrass country. You're from California.
SOLIVANCentral California, yeah.
NNAMDIHow'd you get interested in bluegrass?
SOLIVANWell, like I said, my whole family plays, and my grandmother played mandolin and fiddle, some bluegrass, you know, Vern Williams, and Rose Maddox would stop by I guess and play with my grandmother. I only heard tale of all that, but, you know, we had -- there's a big bluegrass community out there, actually the largest bluegrass association is California Bluegrass Association. And, you know, I was surrounded by it all the time, so I didn't really know any different, you know. There was fiddle and mandolins and guitars in the corner and, you know, hanging on the wall or whatever, and...
NNAMDIAnd -- and food. Your family also loved food.
SOLIVANExactly. I mean, there's pictures of back where my grandmother's being held as a baby where, you know, there's big spreads of food and everybody, you know, is eating, and then the next thing you know whipping out instruments and connecting musically. And that kind of, you know, segues into what we're doing here this (word?) .
NNAMDIThe Dirty Kitchen Experience.
SOLIVANExactly. That's the whole vibe we're trying to get across, that camaraderie, that beautiful connection that happens when people get together and share a meal or, you know, share music, and, you know, we're really excited to be able to share our -- well, my passions, food, and then our passions with music at the Hill Center this 18th, 20th, and 21st with a cooking class, and then...
NNAMDIWait a minute. Not only do you teach cooking classes, these cooking classes...
SOLIVANThis is my first ever.
NNAMDIWell, this one apparently includes knife skills.
SOLIVANYeah. We're gonna cut up some things, yeah.
NNAMDIOh, things, okay.
SOLIVANYeah. Yeah. Not -- not people.
NNAMDIWe just wanted to make sure.
NNAMDIAnd we mentioned earlier on Sunday April 21st, you're doing a free concert here in D.C., 5:30 p.m. at the Hill Center at the old naval hospital...
NNAMDI...near Eastern Market. It's a community center. But we'd like you to go out with some music. Can we try Mike's "M-80"?
SOLIVANYeah. We could. And I hope to see a lot of people maybe helping us, you know, support our cause a the Dirty Kitchen Experience on April 20th as well. There's going to a three-course meal I'm preparing and, you know, it's kind of made possible by our friends at Society Fair, and...
NNAMDIAnd believe you me, he can cook. I'm eating his meatballs now.
SOLIVANBeer and wine provided by our friends from Unwined and Port City Brewing. So hopefully we'll see a lot of people there.
NNAMDILadies and gentlemen, Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, "M-80."
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