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Missy Raines brings her big, bad bluegrass bass to LibertyTown.

 Would 'Father of Bluegrass' Bill Monroe consider Missy Raines' bass-fronted band sacrilegious? Not if he'd had the opportunity to hear them play, Raines believes: 'Monroe was an innovator.'
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Date published: 7/24/2008


When it comes to bluegrass, the bassist rarely gets any of the love heaped on fiddlers, mandolin players or guitarists. While it's nearly impossible to pull off great 'grass without that thumping low end, the bass player rarely gets a chance to shine.

Not so with Missy Raines, who probably tops the very short list of superstar bluegrass bassists. She is a seven-time International Bluegrass Music Association bass player of the year, and is one of the few players to have developed a following for her skill on the bass fiddle.

Raines, who is most recognized for her work with Claire Lynch's Front Porch Band, is coming to Fredericksburg on Saturday as part of the Acoustic Roots Concert series at LibertyTown. She's leading her own band now, the New Hip--and the sounds aren't exactly Bill Monroe's bluegrass.

Born in Short Gap, W.Va., Raines grew up jumping from festival to festival, jamming all the way. Her career circumscribed the traditional bluegrass map. Before long, she was incorporating elements of jazz and rock into her country sound. Like fellow virtuosos Chris Thile, Mark O'Connor and Alison Brown, Raines decided to allow her skills some genre-blurring freedom.

Enter the New Hip, a group of talented young players who are at ease in almost any genre: bluegrass, jazz, swing, classical. "Starting this band was a big risk," Raines said in a recent phone interview.

"But I knew I had to do it or I'd explode. It was frustrating not doing it. There was all of this other stuff in my brain that needed an outlet."

The New Hip is Ethan Ballinger on mandolin, Michael Witcher on resonator guitar, Megan McCormick on guitar, Lee Holland on drums and Dillon Hodges, also on guitar.

Raines selected the players based not only on their talent, but their musical outlook. "I needed players who were versatile, mature and open-minded," she said.

It helps if fans approach listening in the same way. There is nothing simple about the tunes on the band's new self-titled EP--but this is a group that finds comfort in complexity.

In the bluegrass world, "different" can be a death sentence. That's unlikely to be the case with Raines and her band, who balance experimentation with experience. "I wanted the band to be acoustic and electric," Raines said. "I wanted to have lots of options."

If stubborn mountain-music diehards insist on plugging their ears, they will miss a gorgeous application of bluegrass skills. Yes, there are (tasteful) drums and (occasional) electric guitars; but the sound is an honest extension of mountain roots.

"I knew it would be a departure from the tradition I grew up in," Raines said. "I was content with the idea that it would be different."

The band's set at the recent Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in New York earned a standing ovation from a crowd that wasn't sure what to expect.

Raines takes particular pride in winning over old fans who are cautious about her new band. So far, they love it. It doesn't really surprise Raines.

"Bluegrass is about innovation," she said. "It's surprising that people put such tight fences around it. Monroe was an innovator."

To reach Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036
Email: jbeals@freelancestar.com

Who: Missy Raines and the New Hip, presented by Acoustic Roots Concerts When: Saturday, 8 p.m. Where: LibertyTown Arts Workshop, 916 Liberty St. Cost: $16 (free, ages 12 and under) Info: 540/371-7255 Web: libertytownarts.com