What do gumbo, bluegrass and Wisconsin have in common? Jon Bross.
The North Country native and bassist for local pickers Grass It Up recently took first place in the amateur division of the Mumbo Jumbo Gumbo Cook-Off in Manitou Springs, even beating out a couple of Katrina evacuees.
If it all seems an unlikely combination, you should hear his band's music.
While living in Milwaukee, Bross was known as Papa Rocks, of a 10-piece funk and disco band. After relocating to Colorado Springs, he met guitarist/mandolin player Dave Jeffrey and guitarist/banjo player Shannon Carr, two "true-blood, front-porch Alabamans," as Bross describes them.
"It was a fusion dichotomy right away, of my northern style versus [Dave's] Southern style," Bross explains. "And it was funk meets bluegrass, and that's what we're still playing. We're writing songs and covering songs that aren't traditional bluegrass style, and making them bluegrass."
Before Grass It Up, which formed last year, The Gourds' bluegrass cover of Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice" turned newgrass heads. Grass It Up expands that recipe with songs like Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze," Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" and KC & The Sunshine Band's "Get Down Tonight."
"We are a string band, but we have a driving rhythm in everything we play. Any song that has a good rhythm to it will adapt pretty well to bluegrass. And then, maintaining that rhythm without a percussion session is always the challenge, no matter what we do," he says.
While this spicy stew of styles is likely to give bluegrass traditionalists heartburn, Bross says the band has had a warm reception in Colorado, even earning an opening slot for The Oak Ridge Boys.
"We haven't seen any opposition because we do our traditional stuff pretty well. And then they get a laugh when we pull out Jimi Hendrix or something."
Grass It Up
Front Range Barbeque, 2330 W. Colorado Ave.
Wednesday, March 22, 7 p.m.
Free; call 632-2596 for more information.