When people think of bluegrass in Charleston, Blue Plantation automatically comes to mind. For a decade, the quartet has been at the frontline with a swingin' mix of bluegrass, folk, country, and Irish styles.
Blue Plantation bridges gaps between progressive folk music and the high lonesome style of traditional bluegrass. Through the years, they've reached new groups of listeners and influenced up-and-coming acoustic acts with their fluid technique and twangy harmonies.
"We call the hardcore bluegrass 'cornbread and butterbeans,'" says multi-instrumentalist Allan Thompson. "I love my cornbread and butterbeans, but I don't wanna play bluegrass the whole gig."
Thompson, guitarist Aaron Gdovicak, singer/mandolinist David Vaughan, and bassist Roman Pekar have been performing together for 10 years. Things started when Gdovicak and Thompson were giving lessons at the old Precision Music Shop.
"One day, I needed someone to fill in for a friend of mine, then I called Dave, and here we are 10 years later," says Gdovicak. "We're all happy with it."
Originally from Amherst, Ohio, Gdovicak graduated from Bowling Green State University before moving to Charleston. His guitar technique is versatile enough to handle jazz, blues, and rock with ease.
These days, there's a natural easiness and warmness to the band's overall sound.
"We've recorded a few things in the studio, and we record live shows all the time, but we're really a playing band," Gdovicak says.
With a strong chemistry, it's never difficult for Blue Plantation to swerve from one tempo or dynamic to another, no matter the genre.
"When I started playing with Allan, he already had a lot of great experience in Nashville. He essentially took us under his wing and turned us into what we are," says Gdovicak. "When it comes to running a show at a venue or festival, his guidance led us to how we perform now. He's kind of like the father on stage, and it's made us become a much more professional band than we would have been otherwise."
A native of Windsor, N.C., Thompson spent 18 years playing music in Nashville (often as a sideman at the Grand Ole Opry) before relocating to Charleston in 2000. He wanted to be close to the Atlantic coast and hoped to find like-minded musicians
"I played a lot of different music in my life, but I mostly played country professionally," says Thompson. "Once Garth Brooks made the scene, I wasn't that wild about it. That was a turning point for country music, and it started getting away from the traditional roots. It simply bored me."
Thompson switches between a variety of stringed instruments, including the five-string banjo (in the classic three-finger picking style), fiddle, and dobro. He blows the harmonica, too.
"It's easy to play quite a lot of different stuff because we have Allan playing six different instruments," says Gdovicak. "Dave and Allan handle most of the singing. I stick to guitar, and I know what not to do.
"On stage, it all centralizes around the bluegrass front, and much of it comes off sounding somewhat bluegrass, but the Irish tunes definitely sound Irish," Gdovicak adds. "The real jazz dudes would probably laugh at how we do our jazz stuff, but we like to throw that in and do it our own way."