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The Boxcars bring their hard-driving bluegrass to Venice

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Barbecue takes top billing at Saturday's Suncoast BBQ & Bluegrass Bash at the Venice Airport.

But event organizers will also serve music fans a rare treat — finger-picking good bluegrass by one of the hottest bands in the country.

The Boxcars bluegrass group will perform April 20 in Venice, Fla. From left, are Ron Stewart, Keith Garrett, Adam Steffey, John Bowman and Harold Nixon.  (Photo provided)

The Boxcars bluegrass group will perform April 20 in Venice, Fla. From left, are Ron Stewart, Keith Garrett, Adam Steffey, John Bowman and Harold Nixon. (Photo provided)

The Boxcars bluegrass group has earned praise, a slew of industry awards and a growing following among bluegrass faithful.

Adam Steffey and Ron Stewart founded the band after touring a couple of years with Dan Tyminski's band. Tyminski, best known as the singing voice of George Clooney in the "O Brother Where Art Thou" movie, formed a band while he was on hiatus from Alison Krauss and Union Station during her tour with Robert Plant.

Steffey, who is also a Union Station alumnus, said he and Stewart enjoyed playing in Tyminski's band and looked to put their own group together after Tyminski went back to record "Paper Airplane" with Krauss.

They welcomed bluegrass veterans John Bowman, Keith Garrett and Harold Nixon to round out the band. Four band members share lead-singing duties and all are gifted musicians and songwriters. From the outset, The Boxcars hit the road as a bona fide bluegrass all-star band.

"We never thought of it that way," said Steffey in a telephone interview last week from Tennessee. "It's been well received."

Take that as a colossal understatement. After The Boxcars' first year together, the band was nominated for 10 International Bluegrass Music Awards in 2011, including a rare Entertainer of the Year nomination for a new band. The group won the Emerging Artist award and Instrumental Group of the Year trophy.

Bluegrass BashIn 2012, the Boxcars repeated in the Instrumental Group category and Steffey took home another Mandolin Player of the Year award.

When putting the band together, he and Stewart looked for musicians who shared their love of traditional bluegrass and for personalities that would mesh on stage and on the road.

So far, it has been a good fit.

"It's as much fun as I have ever had playing music," Steffey said. "Everything is on the same kind of wavelength."

He and Stewart share a common approach and a rare bond as musicians at the top of the bluegrass heap.

"He is probably the single most gifted musician I have traveled with," Steffey said of Stewart, who is perennially nominated for and often wins awards in two IBMA categories as the best banjo and fiddle player in the genre. "He's so consistent with it. We approach it the same way. We like to listen to the same kind of things ... that's a common thread through all the band."

Steffey describes The Boxcars as a "nuevo-traditional" band, and that's not as much of an oxymoron as it sounds. The Boxcars take new material and perform it in the traditional vein of the legends they grew up listening to, such as the Stanley Brothers, Flatt and Scruggs and J.D. Crowe and the New South.

"We take original songs and approach them in a contemporary traditional way," Steffey said.

That means no string ties and big hats — just "killer, no filler" stage shows made popular by Krauss and other contemporary artists.

"We are not a show band. We do the opposite of cheesy stuff," Steffey said. "We let the music stand for itself and have a good time while we're playing it."

The Boxcars are embarking on a fourth season of touring with a third recording due out later this month.

Since 2002, Steffey has been named IBMA mandolin player of the year nine of the last 11 years, a statistic that he finds both humbling and inspiring when he reels off a list of great mandolin players in bluegrass.

"It's mind-altering, mind-bending to me. That's really cool, One (award) is crazy. ... That's just nuts," he says of winning nine IBMA mandolin player awards.

The Boxcars were booked to play the Suncoast bash last year in Venice but the weather took a turn for the worse.

"Last year we were supposed to play but we got stormed out," Steffey said. "We are looking forward to coming down and playing."

Vicki Dean is the day news editor for HeraldTribune.com who occasionally writes about bluegrass music.

INTERESTED?
WHAT: Suncoast BBQ & Bluegrass Bash
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Venice Airport festival grounds
FREE: Free admission and parking.
MORE INFO: Proceeds benefit Suncoast Foundation for Handicapped Children.
WEBSITE: suncoastbbqbash.com

MUSIC SCHEDULE
11 a.m.: Bagpipes and opening ceremony
11:30 a.m.: Highway 41 South
1 p.m.: Gulf Coast Cloggers
1:30 p.m.: Swinging Bridge
3 p.m. Gulf Coast Cloggers
3:30 p.m.: The Boxcars
6 p.m. The Cryin’ Shames
Last modified: April 25, 2013
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