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    • Kate Laddish

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    • July 10, 2013 in Columnists

    Keith Little & The LittleBand bring bluegrass, country, gospel, acoustic blues to Northern California

    Keith Little & The LittleBand-resized for iPinion

    Keith Little (center) and new quintet The LittleBand including Michael Witcher (left) and Josh Tharp (right) are poised to bring bluegrass, country, gospel, and acoustic blues to dates in Northern California this week. (Not pictured: Luke Abbott and Steve Swan.) Courtesy photo by Phyllis Polito.

    Nationally acclaimed bluegrass and country musician Keith Little and newly formed quintet The LittleBand (Michael Witcher, Josh Tharp, Luke Abbott, Steve Swan) will bring a roots-based mix of bluegrass, country, gospel, and acoustic blues to three Northern California dates this week.

    A household name in California bluegrass circles, Little has won national standing in the bluegrass and country music scenes through his decades of contributing banjo, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, vocals and original songs to a musical who’s who including Peter Rowen Bluegrass Band, Dolly Parton (including her Grammy-winning albums “The Grass Is Blue” and “Little Sparrow”), Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, The Chieftains (including their Grammy-winning “Another Country”), seminal California bluegrass band Vern & Ray, Rose Maddox, Vern Williams Band, David Grisman Bluegrass Experience, The Country Gentlemen, Claire Lynch, and Laurie Lewis.

    Through his role of invaluable bandmember and sideman, Little’s musical contributions are known more widely than is his name. While name-recognition so frequently ends up being the coin of the realm in a fame-based culture, Little has earned a very devoted fan base amongst audiences as well as his fellow musicians, even though only a handful of the sixty-plus albums to which he has contributed list him as the lead or solo artist.

    Seeing Little play is pure delight. As he plays, he leans athletically into his instrument on solos with his left hand flying up and down the fingerboard. Given the number of instruments at his disposal, Little frequently switches from, say, banjo to guitar to mandolin and back during the course of a show — and, when a song calls for it, casually changes instruments midstream. Little’s ability to capture the “high lonesome sound” of bluegrass vocals is apparent in his lead singing. He has the ability to blend vocally with other singers so his tenor harmony can add a rich tang to the sound that enhances the lead vocal. Appropriately, two-time International Bluegrass Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year Claire Lynch calls Little “the blend-meister.”

    Multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, composer and producer Keith Little is at the helm of this new musical venture, and his multi-faceted musical talents and ability to step outside of his own playing to hear the sound of the entire group stitches the band’s sound into a cohesive whole. With the five-piece LittleBand, Little (guitar, vocals) brings together a combination of veteran musicians and relative up-and-comers to create a full-bodied sound with music pulled from multiple traditions. Michael Witcher on Dobro and vocals (Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band, Dwight Yoakam, Dolly Parton, Sara Watkins, Joan Osborn, John Paul Jones, The Witcher Brothers with sibling Gabe of The Punch Brothers) contributes a resonant tone and lyrical phrasing. Josh Tharp (Lost Highway) brings a bright-sounding banjo and sonorous harmony vocals. Victory Music said of fiddler and vocalist Luke Abbott’s (Kathy Kallick, Frank Wakefield) 2010 solo album, “Luke’s music completely blindsided me. He’s got a great, crackly voice and is a monster picker.” Bassist and vocalist Steve Swan (High Country, Frank Wakefield, David Nelson of New Riders of The Purple Sage), anchors the sound with a full sound and steady beat.

    Little says this new quintet plays rich acoustic music drawn from traditional and contemporary sources, with members contributing sterling instrumental chops and adding to the vibrant vocal harmony. There is real sustenance in excellent music and, says Little, “this group can really serve it up.”

    Keith Little & The LittleBand will appear at The Palms Playhouse (13 Main Street in Winters, California) at 8 PM on Friday, July 12. Tickets are $20 and are available at Pacific Ace Hardware in Winters, Armadillo Music in Davis, Watermelon Music in Woodland and at the door if not sold out. For more information, visit palmsplayhouse.com.

    Keith Little & The LittleBand’s schedule:
    ~ Thursday July 11—MotherLode Fair, Sonora, CA
    ~ Friday July 12—The Palms Playhouse, Winters, CA
    ~ Saturday July 13—The State Theater, Auburn, CA



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