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BY JONAS BEALS
Great bluegrass music happens all around Fredericksburg all the time, but there aren't too many opportunities to see a full program of national and local pickers on one stage.
On Saturday night, the Fraternal Order of Eagles will host a concert featuring Copper Ridge, Page County Ramblers and Milford Station. Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice, one of the hottest bluegrass bands on the planet, is also playing. Proceeds will benefit the Eagles' Diabetes Research Center.
Rounding out the bill are Mark Newton and Steve Thomas, who, along with bassist Matt Wallace, were recently signed to Pinecastle Records.
It's a new setting for Newton, who honed his chops playing around his native Fredericksburg and gained fame as a member of The Virginia Squires. For the past couple of decades, he's fronted his own band with a rotating roster of talented pickers.
Steve Thomas also grew up in the bluegrass world in Virginia, but parlayed his talent into success in both the bluegrass and country music worlds. He's a multi-instrumentalist who has played and recorded with the likes of Del McCoury, The Obsorne Brothers, Brooks and Dunn, Kenny Chesney and LeeAnn Womack.
Newton and Thomas had known each other for most of their working lives, but it wasn't until Newton moved to Nashville that they hooked up to play together.
"Steve and I are cut out of the same fabric," Newton said in a interview earlier this week.
He went on to describe what amounts to a bit of a new sound for Newton, who has always stayed in the deep, traditional end of the bluegrass pool. He said this new project gives him flexibility.
"The material we're doing covers the whole gamut," Newton said. He mentioned Americana, roots music and blues to go with the standard 'grass.
It helps that Thomas can handle a number of different instruments--mandolin, fiddle and guitar--while Newton is on guitar.
"I'm working him to death," Newton said. "If I was able to get him to play all three instruments at once, I probably would."
The resulting sound, according to Newton, is "huge" for a trio. They have been playing monthly gigs around Nashville and recording in Thomas' home studio. Newton hopes to have an album done in the early spring, and expects more touring and concerts to follow.
Until then, check out one of our great local musicians as he takes his career in a new direction.
Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036