‘It’s art and it’s pure creation’

Published 7:43 pm Friday, April 21, 2023

Smithfield musician joins with bluegrass performers across the U.S. in The Auld Country

The Auld Country isn’t your typical bluegrass band.

Jesse Burdick, the band’s primary banjo player and founder, lives in Smithfield; the other three members reside across the country from Connecticut to California.

When Burdick met multi-instrumentalist Geddy Miller of Connecticut in June at the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival in Tunbridge, Vermont, he asked Miller to visit Virginia in August to play alongside him at the Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention. That’s where he came up with the concept for The Auld Country: a group of friends from all over the world who were up for an adventure as a touring bluegrass band.

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After pitching the idea at Galax, Burdick and Miller were offered showcase spots as The Auld Country at the 2022 IBMA World of Bluegrass Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina. A few weeks later, he called Nick Beato of Colorado, whom he’d met the previous year at the Jenny Brook fall campout in Tunbridge, and asked Beato to join the burgeoning group.

“Nick definitely caught my ear as a tight mandolin player and singer,” Burdick said.

Burdick had met Dave Gooding of California, who would become the band’s fourth member, while performing virtually at the 2020 IBMA World of Bluegrass Festival. That year, the festival was streamed online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but “in my memory, it stands out as one of the best,” Burdick said.

Gooding, an upright bass player, is the former president of the California Bluegrass Association. Burdick is originally from Rhode Island, home to the top 10 largest bluegrass music associations in the United States.

“I called Dave on somewhat short notice to join us for our 2022 IBMA World of Bluegrass Festival and he stepped right up to the plate,” Burdick said.

The 2022 World of Bluegrass Festival served as The Auld Country’s debut as a four-member band.

“It was a complete honor,” Burdick said. “The International Bluegrass Music Association provides the perfect proving ground to get honest feedback, encouragement and mentoring. Their yearly conference exemplifies that.”

Some of the band’s members have been playing bluegrass music since childhood; others have only entered the genre within the past decade. But Burdick and his band members each hold themselves to high standards. “It’s not just us standing in a line parroting songs in a bar,” Burdick said. “It’s art and it’s pure creation.”

Burdick had recorded a solo album in 2017 titled “Hops & Spirits,” with Marshall Wilborn, Anthony Wray and Chad Graves of the Hillbenders, IBMA Mandolin Player of The Year Alan Bibey, Bill Thibodeau of The Rock Hearts, and U.S. Navy band Country Current fiddle player Patrick McAvinue. The album, which wasn’t released until this year, features a mix of original bluegrass tunes and classics, including a cover of “The Prisoner’s Last Wish” by Bill Hall.

The Auld Country is currently working on putting out its first group album, which will feature a song written by Miller called “Daddy’s Pride,” inspired by Miller’s birthplace of Cedar Hill, Missouri.

“We’re kind of steering away from traditional because that’s what everybody’s heard before; that’s what will attract ‘freebee’ crowds,” Burdick said.

“Freebee crowds” are also the reason Burdick rarely plays gigs in Smithfield.

As a past member of the Isle of Wight County Chamber of Commerce, Burdick was put in touch with a client looking for a bluegrass act, “and after explaining the fee, was told that they instead would have a family member do it for free,” he said. “Time-wasters abound in this area, and the sad ‘normal’ is a combination of hobby acts who will perform for ‘tens of dollars’ and the predatory hiring practices of venues that just want background noise for liquor sales. It hurts everybody. Bars get low-quality acts, the low-quality acts get comfortable being low-quality, and the bottom line of working acts is reduced.”

Burdick operates the band as a branch of Riverside Studios LLC, a company he founded after working for a season with bluegrass singer and mandolin player Travers Chandler and his band Avery County, which disbanded in 2016.

“I decided I wanted to be my own boss, so I went and started an LLC for everything I love to do and make,” Burdick said. “This includes performance, recording, production, lessons, and all sorts of content creation,” including tabletop roleplaying and comics.

“Most importantly, it allows a high degree of transparency between myself and The Auld Country,” Burdick said. “Everybody knows exactly where they stand and they can expect dependable pay.”