CITIGRASS: ONE HIT WONDERIN' CD RELEASE
CITIGRASS is proud to announce the release of our new CD, "ONE HIT WONDERIN'"
Just back from the Grey Fox Music Festival!
It was fantastic. Lot's of pickin' on and off the stage. Great to see... More
Join E-mail List
Citigrass In The News
YONDER MOUNTAIN STRING BAND & CITIGRASS, IRVING PLAZA
“Two young and serious improv-bluegrass combos team up for a promising evening of machine-gun picking, single-mike harmonizing, and bucolic vibes. Locals Citigrass are known for their association with Phish bassist Mike Gordon…”
- The Village Voice, "Voice Choices", 2003
GRASS IN A CONCRETE JUNGLE
"Not only does the five-piece Citigrass have a name that perfectly fits their style, they have the talent to back it up. How many bands can comfortably nestle traditional bluegrass tunes like "New River Train" and "John Hardy" with contemporary originals and a cover of Madonna's "Live to Tell" and make it all work? Citigrass dubs its music "high-energy alternative bluegrass" and surprisingly often appeals to an audience of more jazz and rock fans than bluegrass converts. The band has a diverse array of players with backgrounds in jazz, classical and rock as well as bluegrass (the band is made up of "lifetime" musicians with influences and backgrounds across the spectrum; from heavy metal to pop, from the Dead to the Ramones) and they continue to broaden those musical horizons. With their new album, Serpent in the Grass, they've added Middle Eastern and Spanish-Phrygian elements. The band also boasts great harmonies, precise but innovative instrumental work and an all-around good vibe. Citigrass has played residences at the Knitting Factory in New York City and Galapagos in Brooklyn, appeared in the off-Broadway musical Fortune Cookie Dreams and has released one excellent self-titled CD with a new one on the way. Highly recommended."
- Relix Music Magazine, Mick Skidmore
Hell Yeah! to your latest release. It was pure listening pleasure to review this CD. Fantastic song writing layered perfectly with astounding musical arrangements and the vocal harmonies soar! Thanks For The Treat!”
- Bill Wright, Americana Music Director, WUVT 90.7 FM, Blacksburg, VA
The liner notes state “…Citigrass is not bluegrass as we know it…” but this New York-based band is obviously in the bluegrass camp with a contemporary slant. Citigrass incorporates a host of influences in their music including jazz, Celtic, Klezmer and others. Most of the 13 selections are originals with interesting themes including “Serpent in the Grass,” “Crooked Beak Bird,” “The Ballad of Jeff Van Gundy,” and “The Grey Fox”. One moment they’re belting out straight bluegrass with Ola Belle Reed’s High on a Mountain and the next delving into Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas.” The music of Citigrass is filled with intensity bound up with a bit of naughtiness that will delight anyone who appreciates bluegrass with an attitude.”
- Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine
With a sound that goes considerably beyond bluegrass, this quintet is turning plenty of heads. The "citi" in Citigrass refers to New York. I can't think of many bands who do bluegrass arrangements of "Viva Las Vegas," followed with an original Celtic reel like "Noah's Irish II" that keeps building steam along the rails. Knowing few boundaries, one's got to appreciate the eclectic nature of Citigrass' music. There's a little something for everybody here. These five guys have chosen the bluegrass genre as their current starting point for musical creativity. Citigrass has been receiving some good press in places like Relix, The Village Voice, N.Y. Press, and on-line at Jambands.com. With a heavy concentration on originality in their spirited and eclectic presentation, this band is sure to build a legion of fans, especially among the younger demographic, that likes to boogie to their alternative and urbanized groovegrass.”
- Joe Ross, Moderator of nwbluegrass (Yahoo group for bluegrass fans), staff writer for Bluegrass Now magazine, freelance writer for Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine
MIKE GORDON PERFORMS WITH CITIGRASS
“Phish bassist Mike Gordon joined Citigrass Wednesday night at Galapagos in Brooklyn, NY. Gordon played acoustic guitar with the group for the entire show, which included standards such as "Man of Constant Sorrow," "Rocky Top" and "Old Home Place," as well as the Citigrass original "Ain’t Gonna Change." The setlist also featured bluegrass interpretations of "I Will Survive," "Viva Las Vegas" and "Wish You Were Here." Citigrass’s regular banjoist, Sandy Israel, is out of town this week and asked Gordon to perform in his absence. Mike has also sat in on the previous two Fridays at the Knitting Factory in New York City.”
Citigrass performs with the Mobile Symphony, Mobile, Alabama
Mobile Symphony Presents 'Bunch of Bluegrass'
"As I entered the Saenger Theater Saturday night for Mobile Symphony's concert "Bunch of Bluegrass," I was caught off guard by the audience's attire. The sudden flurry of denim and boots set the stage perfectly for a world-class bluegrass performance.
The Mobile Symphony's special guests were a band out of New York called Citigrass. Comprised of five members, the band joked of often receiving odd looks when they explained that they were a bluegrass band out of New York. The members include Sandy Israel (Banjo and Vocals), Kenji Bunch (Fiddle, Viola, Vocals), Noah Chase (Lead Vocals, Mandolin, Guitar), Tim Kiah (Upright Bass and Vocals), and James Kerr (Dobro and Guitar).
...Citigrass opened strong with "Saturday Night Waltz" and "Hoedown." The performance continued with a traditional piece called "Clinch Mountain Backstep" and another titled "How Mountain Girls Can Love." The audience especially enjoyed these pieces, in which the band sang. I found lead Singer Nolan Chase's voice to be quite impressive.
The next tune was, without a doubt, a crowd favorite. Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere" took the audience back in time. Although Bunch didn't sound much like Cash, the blend improved once the other band members joined in. Chase even brought out a set of spoons, which he borrowed from the Saenger. The rapid tapping of the spoons between his hand and knee produced a really cool sound.
Between songs, the band turned into real jokesters. They also expressed great appreciation for the opportunity to play. They were very complementary towards the orchestra and the city of Mobile as a whole.
...The next piece provided a surprise for the audience. Fiddle-player Tom Morley was asked to step out of the orchestra and showcase his talents with the band. A dramatic opening led into Morley and Bunch's solos. For much of "Orange Blossom Special," they stood face-to-face and took turns showing off their talents. The fiddle produces a very unique sound and is probably one of my favorite instruments. The audience loved it as well, going wild once the fiddlers and orchestra were playing full blast.
Citigrass once again returned to the stage. I was excited when the band announced it was going to play another original song, written by Dobro player James Kerr. "The Grey Fox" was written about Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Kerr's great-great-great uncle served in the Civil War, which sparked his interest on the subject. The band members slowed down considerably for this piece, which conveyed an emotional, almost romantic, feel. "The Grey Fox" was the only piece in which Kerr sang. The heartfelt tribute mentioned Lee's home in Arlington and the South's succession from the Union. It was easy to recognize Kerr's personal involvement in the song.
...For Bill Monroe's "Big Mon," the group introduced a special friend. Guitarist Andy McDonald joined the band on stage, and Tom Morley returned for another round. The powerful encore, "Rollin' in My Baby's Arms," was a perfect close to the symphonic bluegrass ensemble.
Without a doubt, Citigrass stole the show Saturday night. The orchestra did an excellent job backing up the band, but they were certainly the stars. As a fan of bluegrass music, I was thoroughly impressed with Citigrass and would love to see them return to Mobile."
Symphony Takes a Stroll Through Bluegrass Country By Lawrence Specker, Entertainment Reporter, Sunday, June 11, 2006
"Wednesday night at Lower Latitude, a club in Spanish Fort, New York City fiddler Kenji Bunch was humble about where his group Citigrass would be playing Saturday evening.
One of his day gigs was working as composer-in-residence for the Mobile Symphony Orchestra, he told his listeners. "Somehow I talked them into this crazy idea of letting my band play with their orchestra," he said.
On Saturday, the idea didn't seem quite so crazy anymore. Dressed in jeans for "A Bunch of Bluegrass," symphony members held up their end of a pops hoedown as they brought their regular season to a close.
"Pops Hoedown," by composer Richard Hayman, was the opening number, a merry piece that had the audience laughing in places thanks to barnyard sound effects and references to square-dancing tunes. Two movements from Aaron Copland's "Rodeo" made for a fitting follow-up.
The night's guests then made their way out onto the stage: Bunch, banjo player Sandy Israel, mandolinist Noah Chase, bassist Tim Kiah and dobro player James Kerr. The sound of the band and orchestra tuning up together -- Kerr's resonator guitar and Israel's banjo added to the familiar sound of bowed strings -- served notice that something special was coming.
What followed was a stately dance toward true fusion. Starting out, band and orchestra took turns, one sitting silent or providing muted accompaniment while the other romped.
...After a bit of banter between Conductor Scott Speck and Bunch, symphony violinist Tom Morley stepped forth to match fiddles with Bunch. Morley, as a principal of local Celtic group Mithril, knows his way around a non-classical genre or two.
The symphony, not Citigrass, then sounded the opening notes of "Orange Blossom Special," setting the mood with a slow soft start that built energy in an almost jazz-like swirl of possibilities. And then Kiah, Citigrass' standout bassist, slammed things into gear with a rumble that really got the train a-rollin'.
This was when the Mobile Symphony Orchestra and Citigrass could truly be said to be putting their muscles into the same song at the same time, and it was electric. It was a lasting thrill too, with Bunch and Morley trading solo passages in the friendliest of duels.
Given that the second half of the program was dominated by composers such as Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe and Citigrass' Israel, "Orange Blossom Special" also likely served as an indicator of memorable collaboration to come after intermission.
...the performance was a reminder that even if the audience might not always be ready to try something new and adventurous, the Mobile Symphony is.
Bunch confessed to the crowd that he sometimes gets funny looks when he says he's a bluegrass player from New York City. But if a decent bluegrass band can hail from the Big Apple, he added, to applause, "then why not a world-class symphony from Mobile, Alabama?"
Those Ol' Brooklyn Blues - How Southern Culture is Migrating North by Aisha Gawad, NYU Livewire
"I packed my bags and I saddled on my gear. Put on these boots and I roll right out of here..."
Such a bluegrass lament is familiar for southerners. But these singers aren't abandoning Raleigh or Nashville.
"Take the L to Bedford Station 'cause I've got to get out of this town. I'm Brooklyn bound."
They're leaving Manhattan for Brooklyn.
If that seems like startling material for a band in New York City — a place without mountains or farmland, and nothing like a honkytonk — the local band, Citigrass, has lots of company. Southern music, food and fashion are growing more popular up north, culture-watchers say.
Cowgirl boots have become a staple of almost every fashion maven's wardrobe, and retailer J. Crew is featuring plaid farmer-style button downs. Southern and Cajun restaurants are popping up everywhere.
Prof. John Shelton Reed, a founder of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, says southern culture is getting a better reception in the North now than in the 1960's.
“I'm particularly struck with the proliferation of barbecue restaurants,” said Reed, who received his graduate degree from New York's Columbia University. “Next we're going to get y'all eating grits.”
Bluegrass, which originated in southern Appalachia, is steadily gaining a higher profile in the north, according to Citigrass founder Sandy Israel.
Israel, 44, a former advertising executive from Bethesda, Maryland, bought his first banjo on a whim while wandering in a music store, not long after the ad agency where he'd worked had collapsed.
“It changed my life,” said Israel. “I just fell in love with it. I was a guitar player for 15 years, but ever since I picked up that banjo, I've hardly touched my guitar.” Israel decided to quit his job and start a band, teaching banjo lessons by day. He expected to find a group to jam with in his living room.
“The great thing about New York is that I ended up getting all these seasoned musicians who were really good and wanted to try something new,” he said. He ended up forming a band of professionals, each specializing in a different musical genre — none of them country or bluegrass.
Fiddler Kenji Bunch, for example, didn't even have a violin when he auditioned. But he was a Juilliard-trained concert violist and a composer-in-residence at the Mobile Symphony Orchestra in Alabama. It didn't take Israel long to realize that, violin or no violin, he had found his fiddler.
“Since Katrina, people are more aware, said Joan Gallow, general manager of the Delta Grill, a Louisiana-style restaurant where Citigrass often performs. “But even before that, we got people who used to live in the south, people who read about it, kind of like our version of Anglophiles.”
Israel thinks New Yorkers find southern culture exotic.
“People in New York like to try new things. People want to check out the new Pakistani restaurant and then maybe head on over to see a new bluegrass band. In New York, you can do that.”
At the Sheepshead Bay Yacht Club in Brooklyn, the sounds of Donna Summer's “Hot Stuff” leak out onto the street, mixing with the beat of the Greek music from nearby restaurants. Inside, women in black leather boots and studded jeans are kick-ball-changing around the dance floor. Men in flannel shirts sit nearby and clap their hands in encouragement.
JoAnne Hayden, a dance instructor and founder of Western Steppers, is the woman behind all the doe-see-doeing. She founded the group 16 years ago, after experimenting with a square dancing class and ending up by accident in line dancing.
“I've always loved country music,” said Hayden. “When all the other girls were listening to disco, I was listening to Johnny Cash. I just like it because it tells a story, it deals with real life.”
Hayden saw a surge in country music's popularity in New York when Garth Brooks broke out as a big star in the early 1990s. “He introduced a different type of country music, and showed people it isn't all twangy,” she said.
The Western Steppers agree that the main obstacle to building a bigger community of country music fans is the lack of a New York City-area country music radio station. Seven years ago, when there was one, Hayden participated in station dating program that matched her up with a country music lover from Connecticut. They line-danced on their first date, and married six months later.
Southern culture converts seem to be passing their affection for Garth Brooks and fried chicken to the next generation. Israel's 12-year-old son Jake is learning to play the fiddle. And dancer Marion Rivera's five-year-old granddaughter often accompanies her to Western Steppers functions.
“Boy, can she do a mean two-step,” said Rivera, shaking her head with pride.
What made the band choose the odd but interesting bluegrass fusion that you have?
• We sometimes call our music “Urban Bluegrass.” Citigrass is a band born in New York City and both the audience, the band members, and the music reflect this. Our audiences are often made up of more rock and jazz fans than bluegrassers, so we cultivate a high-energy sound that appeals to both bluegrass fans and people who are not turned on by a low-key traditional sound. In addition, the combined talents of the band members almost force a mixed style. None were traditional bluegrassers before Citigrass: Sandy Israel, the band leader and banjo player, was originally a rock guitarist; Kenji Bunch, the fiddler, is a classical violist & composer; Noah Chase, the lead singer and mandolinist, is a rock singer (with the band Soul Farm); Tim Kiah is a Jazz bassist; and James Kerr, our Dobro player, plays in every genre. But really, we sound like we sound because Citigrass is a bluegrass band with the soul of a Rock band.
When will you make a new album?
• We are currently in the studio working on our second CD, “Serpent in the Grass.” Our goal is to release by end of April. It’s gonna be great!
How did the New York residences go?
• They have both gone very well, and have raised the profile of the band immensely. In fact, so well that both have been extended: we now play the Knitting Factory, in Manhattan, every Friday night (at 11:00pm) and Galapagos, in Brookyn, every Wednesday night (at 9:00pm). Both shows have elicited great responses from the New York audience.
Where do want to go with this music?
• Our path, as a band, will be reflected in the new CD, “Serpent in the Grass.” Every bandmember has written songs for “Serpent”, and the vocal harmonies especially have gotten much richer and more sophisticated. We are constantly working-in the unique capabilities of the musicians - bringing in more Rock, Jazz, Classical, and Irish sounds as the members hone their skills writing for Citigrass. The resulting music is hot and fresh; for example, the title track (written by Sandy) is half Middle-Eastern, half “Spanish-Phrygian”, and all jammed out.
How has it been accepted?
• Very well. We’ve played over 120 shows in the city and there’s really nobody doing what we’re doing. New fans often express that this is just what they’ve been looking for. Of course, New York is always a hard nut to crack and with all the competition, it took some time to raise our profile above the clutter. But recently, the Village Voice and other media have given us regular, positive coverage and there’s been rooms full of loyal fans. Also, live, the bluegrass format allows for far more hot instrumental solos and rowdy vocal harmonies than any rock show. For people who like that sort of thing, it’s more of what they’re looking for.
• As for our recordings, the first Citigrass CD was one of the top 20 “most added” records to radio (in US and Canada) the week it released, and it has been played on over 250 stations, making the top 10 charts on many stations. We still hear from folks as far away as Alaska looking to get a copy.
Have you toured nationally yet?
• Not yet. We’re still a young band and we’ve put most of our energy into building a following along the East Coast. Influences?
• In addition to the guys who created bluegrass - Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, etc., we’ve found inspiration in everybody from the Ramones to Madonna to the Dead. The bandmembers are all lifetime musicians steeped in the same music as your readers: Classic Rock, Psychedelic music, Punk, Heavy Metal, Pop, The Blues. We’re not really trying to be like anyone else out there; Realistically, our greatest combined influence is each other. Bloomberg Rehearsal Dinner, Gracie Mansion NYC
Mike Plays Matchmaker Today
By David Salstonall, City Hall Bureau Chief
New York Daily News, June 10, 2005
A bluegrass band and some barbecue transformed Gracie Mansion into a country-style bridal bash for Mayor Bloomberg's daughter Emma, who is getting hitched today. The raucous rehearsal dinner at Gracie came as Emma, 26, and her 25-year-old fiancé, Chris Frissora, were to be wed today by the mayor at his sprawling, 26- acre horse farm in North Salem in Westchester County.
"They are both great kids," the mayor said yesterday on his weekly radio show. "And they have been very happy together for three years and, you know, they're old enough to know what they are doing."
Last night's party on Gracie's riverfront lawn featured catered ribs from Blue Smoke, a topnotch E. 27th St. barbecue joint, and the banjo-pickin' sounds of CITIGRASS, a city band.
It was the first time since 1970 - when Mayor John Lindsay married off one of his daughters, Katharine, at Gracie - that a sitting mayor has used the landmark mansion to help celebrate a family wedding.
Bloomberg actually has to do some fancy legal footwork before today's ceremony.
Although the mayor plans on officiating at the service, state law says that mayors can perform marriages only in the city. So Bloomberg said yesterday a small legal ceremony would take place first here.
"Then we will have a bigger ceremony up in Westchester, so it will be legal and something in front of all the guests," Bloomberg said yesterday. Bloomberg, a divorcé who also has a 22-year-old daughter, Georgina, has performed only one other wedding in his three years as mayor - the 2003 nuptials of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his third wife, Judith Nathan.
CITIGRASS: They've been building a following with these energetic, smart weekly Williamsburg gigs, offering up "urban bluegrass," which marries bluegrass with knowing local lyrics and sounds that shout out to rock and even ambient/ jazz – not shocking for a band with a fiddle player from the Flux Quartet. Yet they still play, "Orange Blossom Special with no-joke, straight-on pickin' abandon."
- The Village Voice, "Voice Choices"
CITIGRASS: They call the catchy stuff they do "Urban Bluegrass" which blends some jazz turns and knowing Big Apple lyric references with actual bluegrass chops. No joke, no-noodling from an eclectic bunch, who came to this band from Off-Broadway, Israel, Iowa and -- in the case of the fiddler -- the Flux Quartet. Williamsburg folks even put down their drinks for a minute to listen.
- The Village Voice, "Voice Choices"