The Bee Eaters at the Unitarian Center

The Bee Eaters are a sharp example of what can happen when four creative, young talents combine chamber music arrangements with the more playful traditions of bluegrass, old-time, jazz and pop.

"What stands out is their ability to take in a piece of music and move it around, with just a shift or a chord," says Ashland folksinger and guitarist Emy Phelps. Phelps will sit in with The Bee Eaters during segments of the band's show Saturday at the Unitarian Center in Ashland.

A Boston-based progressive string band, The Bee Eaters changed its name from New Old Stock in late 2008. The quartet features Simon Chrisman on hammered dulcimer, Wes Corbett on banjo and brother-and-sister duo Tristan and Tashina Clarridge on fiddles.

Phelps' 12-year-old daughter, Mila, attends the Clarridges' fiddle camps at the Summer String Summit, held annually in Weed, Calif. Phelps, who played with Ashland band Borderline for years, met the two violinists when they were in their late teens.

"The spin that they put on music is other-worldly," Phelps says. "They are on the cusp of today's new acoustic music."

The Clarridge siblings were raised in Northern California, while their counterparts, Corbett and Chrisman, grew up on Bainbridge Island, Wash.

Tristan Clarridge is a five-time national fiddle champion who tours with Darol Anger's Republic of Strings and with his own band, Crooked Still. Tashina Clarridge is the 2005 national fiddle champion. It was Anger who introduced the Clarridges to Chrisman and Corbett.

Corbett has toured internationally with North Carolina bluegrass band The Biscuit Burners and has performed with the David Grisman Quintet. Corbett also performs with his group Joy Kills Sorrow. Chrisman has performed with violinist Anger and multi-instrumentalist Mike Marshall, purveyors of new acoustic music since the early '80s. Anger played with Grisman's group in the late '70s.

It also was Anger who produced and engineered The Bee Eaters' album last year.

"The Bee Eaters are the instrumental cream of the brand new string nation," says Anger, quoted in a press release.

Songs from the record have received airplay on Ashland's Jefferson Public Radio.

"Anger took a gentle hand with the record," Corbett says. "Generally, a producer is listening to the music as a whole and helping a band create something cohesive. Daryl was hands-off for most of it. He was more like a springboard for our ideas."

Released on The Bee Eaters' independent label, the album is a culmination of two years of writing, arranging and tweaking original compositions. "The Tree Climber" and "Stoneground" went through many evolutions.

"We were waiting for the right ideas to come along," Corbett says. "With 'The Tree Climber,' we knew what we wanted the song's impact to be, but we didn't quite know how to get it there."

The solution was an ending sequence with Tashima Clarridge and Corbett doubling a section of the melody while Tristan Clarridge and Chrisman played chords that phased in another time signature, Corbett says.

Other compositions by The Bee Eaters go together more quickly.

"But our concept of quicker is still very much on the slow side compared to other bands that we know," Corbett says. "It's hard to hear something that you played in the past and not want to do it again differently, or better," he says. "I sometimes think it's the application of the human condition.

"But we really love the record. I feel that it is extremely honest, and that's one of the key elements of this band. We're not trying to be anything other than what we are. Our instrumentaion is not standard, but I feel we're successfully accessible, a group that anyone can listen to. There is complexity in the music we play, but I feel it's concise."

Corbett was 3 when his mother started his music career with a piano.

"Learning classical at a young age definitely influences how your hear and listen to music as a young person," Corbett says. "But there's a lot of other music out there, too."

Corbett switched to playing banjo with bands when he was 16 and attending high school.

"I found it to be more fun and friendlier," Corbett says. "The moods of the two music scenes are wildly different. Classical tends to run more competitive and colder."

Corbett's switch to an instrument of his own choice made a refreshing difference for him.

"The change in the social scene was invigorating," Corbett says. "It's how I met Simon, the Clarridges and Daryl."

Now based in South Boston, Corbett says there's a close-knit scene of acoustic music players living near the Berklee College of Music.

"We would probably never live here if it wasn't for Berklee," Corbett says. "And everyone else lives here because everybody else lives here. It's just that funny, quagmire thing that's happened, but it's a pretty special thing."

The Bee Eaters' album will be available at the Ashland show, and online at CDBaby.

Share This Story