Arts & Entertainment

Badger Mountain Dry Band may sway you on bluegrass

Years ago John April of Richland was at a dinner party when a Frenchman asked him what kind of music he played.

"I told him acoustic music," April said.

The Frenchman gave him a knowing nod and said, "Oh yes, dry music," which is how the French describe unplugged music, April said.

That's the back story of the band's name -- Badger Mountain Dry Band, which formed in 1991. It's made up of April on vocals, banjo and guitar, Joe Smart on vocals, guitar and fiddle, Jim Honeyman on vocals and mandolin, Chuck Peden on vocals and guitar and Kurt Gustafson on stand-up bass.

"We wanted to do bluegrass music that mainly focused on taking rock music and fitting it to an acoustic style," he said. "The music we play is what I term 'new grass' (or a nontraditional approach to bluegrass.)

"We like to take popular music and turn it into acoustic music using bluegrass instruments. We do Beatles, Janice Joplin, Sting, U2 and Grateful Dead (tunes)."

The band will play a concert at 7:30 p.m. April 30 at Battelle Auditorium in Richland. The fundraiser concert aims to raise money for the Three Rivers Folklife Society's annual Tumbleweed Festival, which is Labor Day weekend.

The musicians moonlight in day jobs. Three of the five Dry Band members come from a scientific background. Peden is a research scientist and Honeyman and April are managers/engineers. Gustafson is a counselor at Hanford High School and Smart is an electrical contractor. The five say they have been musicians at heart since they were kids.

"Music's always been much more than a hobby for me," said Peden of Richland. "I've been a semi-professional musician since age 17 (and that was nearly 40 years ago). I started on guitar age 11 and am fully self-taught."

Peden also played in a few country rock bands when he was younger. He joined the Dry Band in 2002.

"I've always liked traditional bluegrass but it wasn't my favorite musical form," he said. "What attracted me most to BMDB was taking pop and rock songs, mostly from my musical formation years of the '60s and early '70s, and turning them into bluegrass songs."

Honeyman of Kennewick was in the fourth grade when he started playing the sax. He picked up the guitar as a sixth-grader. But it's been the mandolin, which first drew his attention in 1978, that keeps his musical interest alive.

"I grew up on a wheat and cattle operation in western North Dakota," Honeyman said. "My family was very musical. My dad played fiddle and accordion. ... and he was in demand as a musician for dances and parties."

Smart is no ordinary guitarist. In 2005, the Pasco man won the National Flat Pick Guitar competition in Kansas, which draws hundreds of musicians from across the country. The competition's festival draws more than 15,000 spectators each year.

Gustafson, from Kennewick, often plays with other bands around town when he isn't playing a Dry Band gig. One reason for that, he joked, is that he has a short attention span.

"I love all styles of music and my heart is always in good music, done well," he said. "And the acoustic string style (of the Dry Band) is a great sound that I like."

April acknowledges that many are wary of bluegrass music, but he knows how to change their minds.

"Most people, especially in the West, are not immediately attracted to bluegrass. When they hear us, their view immediately changes."

*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com

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