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Frank Fairfield & Trace Bundy Underground May 2nd

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Frank Fairfield and Trace BundyWill 2015 be the year that old-time music finally hits the mainstream? Old-time music, bluegrass' much older brother (or is it father?) has been on a tear the past few years. Old Crow Medicine Show went platinum with "Wagon Wheel" and even became Grand Ole Opry members. That sound is about to get another major bump from Orthophonic Joy, the Carl Jackson-produced tribute to the legendary 1927 Bristol Sessions that gave the world the first recordings of the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. Old-time music gets weekly TV exposure on RFD-TV's Marty Stuart Show, in the hands of clawhammer master and "The Sultan of Goodlettsville," LeRoy Troy.

Perhaps the year's most promising crossover is the duo of Abigail Washburn and Bela Fleck, who played the cave last month as part of our PBS series taping (Season 5 airs in September; set your DVRs.). Abby's non-resonator open-back banjos hold their own with her husband's fingerpicked 1937 Gibson Mastertone, and frankly, she steals the show. Given that they're spending 2015 playing Bela's circuit of major-market performing arts centers and massive national music festivals, Abby's playing to new audiences for clawhammer banjo, people unfamiliar with her solo work or her band Uncle Earl. Not surprisingly, at least anecdotally, I keep meeting more folks trying to learn clawhammer style, picking up the old-time banjos which, like most other vintage-style instruments are being made in huge numbers by indie luthiers as well as Asian/American companies like Eastman, Gold Tone and Recording King. It's not a ukulele-size craze, but it's steadily becoming one.

It makes sense. It always seemed like old-time music would fit the young hipster crowd more than bluegrass, in that there are fewer rules and and a more rocking, bluesy sound to the old-time stringbands. Back in the '70s, the Highwoods String Band and the Hotmud Family carried that banner; in the '90s it was the Horseflies; and in this century, bands like Uncle Earl and OCMS brought in new, younger audiences. Until now, it seemed unlikely to become a major new movement, but like Chicago Cubs fans have said for so long, old-time music lovers are now saying, "Thiscould be our year."

Which brings us to our next Bluegrass Underground artist, a multi-instrumentalist who was way ahead of the clawhammer curve, old-timey before old-timey 's latest resurgence of cool.

Frank Fairfield has been playing old-time banjo, hillbilly ragtime guitar and raw-toned mountain fiddle for years, and his sizable following mixes hard-core traditionalists with alt-rock fans, as the California native tours clubs and festivals of all sorts.

He's a veteran of BGU and a human time machine who will transport the Volcano Room back to the 1920s, when Ralph Peer and the Lomaxes were making their Southern field trips in search of new old sounds.

For a taste of what he does, one of Fairfield's Youtube videos features him tearing up the banjo on "Nine Pound Hammer" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lefJBwJhQ6E). Or check him out online. He'll be performing as part of the April 29 lineup of our sister show Music City Roots, and you can stream the show live at Musiccityroots.com. And, as great a venue as the Factory in Franklin is, nothing beats seeing Frank Fairfield at Bluegrass Underground, under that antique crystal chandelier in the natural cathedral that is Cumberland Caverns' Volcano Room.

Visit the Bluegrass Underground for tickets and more information.

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