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By Steve Wildsmith of The Daily Times Staff
Originally published: August 06. 2009 1:08PM

www.thedailytimes.com

Larry Keel and Natural Bridge — (from left) mandolin player Mark Shimick, banjo player Jason Flournoy, Keel and his wife, bassist Jenny Keel — will headline “Old City Live” on Thursday (Aug. 13).

Larry Keel and Natural Bridge — (from left) mandolin player Mark Shimick, banjo player Jason Flournoy, Keel and his wife, bassist Jenny Keel — will headline “Old City Live” on Thursday (Aug. 13).

Not only is there comfort in familiarity, roots music innovator Larry Keel has learned, there are opportunities in it to dive even deeper into the genres he loves so much.

Keel, who’s played with such musical geniuses as Tony Rice and Keller Williams among others, has always sought out new experiences and partnerships to open the doors of performance possibilities. But with his band Natural Bridge — which he’ll bring to headline the “Old City Live” concert series Thursday night — he’s discovered that keeping one group together offers something more.

“The band that we used to have, the Larry Keel Experience, was more of an improvisational unit,” Keel told The Daily Times this week. “The music was always changing, and the members were always changing. The audience seemed to really like the surprise and freshness of that all the time. One person never knew what the other was going to do from second to second, which creates a really fun thing to watch.

“But with this unit, you can really try to go your deepest and your farthest out there because you know your other players. Aside from one lineup change, we’ve pretty much stayed the same for the past four years now. I feel that enables us to really play our music the best we can, because we know a lot about each other and how to play off each other, and it creates a much tighter finished product.”

Regardless of how tight the music might be, there’s always a hint of wildness in Keel’s music. Credit that to his Southern upbringing — raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, he was surrounded by music at an early age. Influenced by both his father and brother, he mastered the basics of the acoustic guitar, then proceeded to dazzle everyone with his improvisational skills.

At 18, he was a contract musician playing bluegrass at the Tokyo Disneyland. Once back home, Leftover Salmon’s Mark Vann, an old picking buddy, encouraged him to enter the Telluride Bluegrass Festival’s guitar competition, where he won first place. He went on to front Magraw Gap, which later won the festival’s band competition in 1995 — the same year he won the guitar competition yet again.

Since then, he’s played with the likes of such instrumental contemporaries as Darol Anger, Vassar Clements and Jerry Douglas, but the music he’s making with Larry Keel and Natural Bridge is some of the most satisfying of his career, he said.

Credit part of that to the partnership he has with his wife, Natural Bridge bass player Jenny Keel. Although a working partnership might seem to put pressure on a marital one, the Keels have a good system worked out, he said.

“We’ve learned to separate different areas of our life so that things don’t get too complicated,” he said. “When we’re on the road, I’m the band boss, the front guy and all that, and when I’m at home, I’m a couple of different people — the band manager who has to look ahead in my calendar year and try to get all the shows I want going on, and then there’s the other great job of trying to be a good husband. We’ve spent the last bunch of years figuring out what works for us.”

What works — for the Keels and for Natural Bridge as a whole — is a marriage of new and traditional. A flatpick virtuoso, Keel weds the trappings of Williams, his improvisational childhood friend, with traditional bluegrass music upon which he was raised. The end result is a sound that’s both new and old, rugged and sleek, flashy and deep.

And the more he pushes himself instrumentally, the more he asks of his muse. Writing songs, he said, takes up a big part of his creative process.

“I’m always trying to write music, and I’ve always loved the Woody Guthrie quote about writing a song a day,” Keel said. “I wish I could do that. I try; I sit down and listen to what’s in my head and try to come up with some new things, and that’s personally satisfying to me.”

Keel finds satisfaction from a great many things in his life, he added — running his music company; traveling with his wife; and performing with friends and family, particularly his brother. And when he’s on stage with Natural Bridge, he said, he’s confident that he can blaze new trails without worrying about who’s keeping up.

“This is a really tight ensemble to do it with,” he said. “We play a lot of festivals, and the crowds sure do love us. Each one of these people is a virtuoso musician of their own large caliber. They’re just tremendous players, and I think the chance for them to get out and do their thing as good as they can do it is as satisfying as anything else they can do.

“I’m just very blessed. The road life can tear a band down, and we’re blessed we all get along well and just have fun playing this music.”

Summary
He’s collaborated with some of the nation’s top-tier roots musicians — guys like Keller Williams, Vassar Clements and Tony Rice — and Larry Keel is no slouch himself when it comes to groove-oriented bluegrass. Check him out on Thursday (Aug. 13) when he headlines the “Old City Live” concert series.

IF YOU GO:
“Old City Live”: Larry Keel and Natural Bridge
PERFORMING WITH: Brendon James Wright and The Wrongs
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 13
WHERE: Old City Courtyard, behind Southbound Bar and Grill, 106 S. Central St., Knoxville’s Old City
HOW MUCH: Free
CALL: 474-1038

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Macon News

http://www.maconnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=5110&Itemid=85

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ASHEVILLE – As motorists drive down heavily traveled Lexington Avenue in Asheville, they will see something other than graffiti.

The I-240 bridge underpass is now home to the Asheville Mural Project. It strives to replace the graffiti with elaborate and colorful paintings, which reflect the unique history, context and culture of Asheville.

The project is an unprecedented collaboration between the N.C. Department of Transportation, the city of Asheville and the non-profit organization Arts 2 People. To date, 11 local artists have volunteered to work on the project.

Before the project began, commuters driving on Lexington Avenue under the I-240 bridge saw concrete “tagged,” or written on, with offensive graffiti. Despite efforts by NCDOT and the local police to stop the graffiti, the “taggers” continued to deface the property.

“We hope this mural inspires graffiti artists to use their talents and energies in other ways,” said NCDOT Division 13 Operations Engineer Ken Wilson. “Asheville is a beautiful place, and this effort helps us celebrate that beauty.”

Asheville artists have painted a mural on the I-240 bridge underpass that had previously been defaced by graffiti. Eleven different artists have worked on the project. A local non-profit called Arts 2 People is raising money to complete the project.

The Asheville Mural Project was proposed in May 2005 by Project Coordinator Molly Must. She became inspired after seeing concrete art in Canada. A little over a year after approaching the city of Asheville and NCDOT, she received permission to start the project.

Must held a “call to artists” and selected six artists who volunteered to work on the project. They worked collectively to design and paint the mural. Five more artists are now working to complete the project.

In contrast to graffiti, these artists do not use spray paint. Instead, they use a specialized form of acrylic paint, which is expensive. To afford supplies for the remainder of the project, they are accepting donations on these two Web sites, www.ashevillemuralproject.org or www.arts2people.com.

For more information on the Asheville Mural Project, contact the NCDOT Communications Office at (919) 733-2522.

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