Gettysburg, Fall Festival Review

Dry Branch Fire Squad is the onliest band to have appeared at all sixty-one iterations of The Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival.  I've begun to realize that Ron Thomason, the band's leader throughout its history, is a sort of Forest Gump of bluegrass.  He's been THERE from the start at Fincastle and seems to have been involved in many of the most important moments in bluegrass history, either as a spectator or participant.  He also represents the closest thing bluegrass has to offer to a genuine Will Rogers, Mark Twain kind of humorist.  Ron describes himself as a conservative in the deepest sense of the word, clinging to the most important values that have helped to forge the strengths of our nation.  His patter often hits home with pinpoint accuracy on elements of our society worthy of attention.  Many hit home while others zoom right over the heads of those who could most benefit from understanding.  Social commentary coupled with song choice from the oldest traditions of music to new and catching lyrics make Dry Branch Fire Squad one of the most important and entertaining bands in bluegrass much deserving of wider recognition. 

(Note from the Band: we would like to mention that we've also been on the line-up at every Grey Fox Festival and every Winterhawk Festival before that. As hosts of that festival we proudly invite one and all.  The same is true of our High Mountain Hay Fever Festival. We've been there every year from the start and intend to keep our record perfect. Come see us there as well.)


I must say that my new favorite DBFS album (I still like the word) is Echoes of the Mountains.  I put that recording up there with the best of the first generation of bluegrass recordings, and believe that it would appeal most to folks who know which recordings I'm referring to.  Still I must qualify this opinion by saying that if I had to choose to have just one bluegrass CD it would be Dry Branch's 30th Anniversary.  30th has several new recordings by the band's latest line-up (which is the best ever) and a nice sample of the great songs and performances over the past three decades.  But in fairness, no studio recording can capture the soul that DBFS puts into their concert performances; for that you still need to visit their two great "live" albums.  

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

  There is no band in bluegrass or country music today that captures the soul of American music better than the Fire Squad. 

The Crooked Road

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW WHY THIS BAND IS SO different from others?...It's a matter of receptiveness, of openness to a tradition....(they) show sensitivity and respect for the people who "made" this music....Here's a bit of advice: go see this band. (The music) is beautiful but there is another side to this band that must be experienced in the flesh: humor....I've seen full barrooms grow so quiet I could hear the soda fizz in my glass.  And I've seen audiences so convulsed with laughter that minutes had to pass before the show could go on.

Boston Globe

  For (almost 40) years Dry Branch Fire Squad has been one of bluegrass music's most popular bands, renowned for its spry mix of front-porch standards, modern ballads, and the old-time sounds from which bluegrass first sprang.  The (quartet) is positively adored for its droll, scampy stage shows, fueled by Ron Thomason's cornpone-and-hard-cider wit.  On their irresistible new Rounder concert CD, Live at the Newburyport Firehouse...his laconic monologues unfurl like long, laze serpents:  When they strike, it's with such suddenness and accuracy that they almost leave you too breathless to laugh.  Almost.  


 There are few, if any, bands which revel in the bluegrass experience more than the Dry Branch Fire Squad. Hand Hewn rates with the best in their extensive library of works. 

NPB Firehouse Concert Hall

    With a career spanning (nearly 40) years and a baker’s dozen albums, they have simultaneously preserved and expanded upon the bluegrass tradition. Musically, their starting point is a powerful, ruggedly soulful brand of classic bluegrass, which they enliven and reinvent using a wide ranging repertoire which encompasses vintage and contemporary sources. 

Philadelphia Daily News

   I don't know which I enjoy more - Dry Branch Fire Squad's hard-core, purebred bluegrass music, or leader/mc Ron Thomason's hilariously droll "country bumpkin" (but not really) monologues that are also a big part of the band's show and new, double-disc "Live at the Newburyport Fire House" set on Rounder. 

Bluegrass Now

 It's old-time vocals shouted out with honesty and conviction rough edges proudly showing, breathtakingly quick that bring to mind free-spirited wild horses, Ron Thomason's biting satire and wry political commentary, hauntingly moving a cappella gospel songs, pure unadulterated old-time religion set to mountain music. This is the Dry Branch Fire Squad. Nancy Cardwell, Bluegrass Now.

Bluegrass Unlimited

  Resonating throughout, of course, is Ron Thomason¹s passionate, moaning, cracking voice, old-time and authentic yet unfailingly musical. The man¹s a national treasure, for his brilliant on-stage humor, his abiding commitment to taking his intelligence ever deeper into the sources and meaning of the music, and the intensity of his singing. He has an unerring sensibility for what brought many of us to country and bluegrass music. 

New York Times

 As much as country music¹s new traditionalists pride themselves for their purity, they will have to go a long way to capture the historical resonance and simplicity found in the Dry Branch Fire Squad...A sense of austerity guides the quintet's music; a lonesome Appalachian at the heart of a tale as dire as it is epic. Utterly refined, these songs, drawn from the public domain, are about heavenly rewards and earthly strife and offer an unyielding emotional veracity. 

Wichita Eagle

 Rarely does old-time music sound so new and powerful. 

Southern California Bluegrass News

 Simply put, this is the best live band playing today...each time I was moved not only to laughter, but tears and joy as well. Every time. 

Express Times, Easton PA

 Dry Branch Fire Squad makes vibrant, engaging music that is immediate in its impact and timeless in its resonance.Express Times, Easton, PA.

Philadelphia City Paper

 No white hats, no synths, no navels hanging out; these people are thoroughly for real. Voices are as hand hewn as the title implies, no suggestions of blues or rock or anything but generations of Appalachia in their tone. 

Stereo Review

  Listening to the Dry Branch Fire Squad, you hear what country music used to sound like back in smoky hollows before people began to improve on it. The approach of this... quartet is as basic as it is timeless: simple stories, packed with emotion, sung from the heels...The Dry Branch Fire Squad makes you feel their passion and resolve...The uncluttered accompaniment of mandolin, guitar, banjo and bass in various combinations adds just the right amount of sweetness or melancholy or zest. 

Los Angeles Daily News

  What separates the band from most neotraditionalists is its knowing, unsentimental evocation of mountain culture. Rather than representing Appalachia as a kind of mythical paradise lost (as the Carter Family frequently did), the band often speaks to the present-day realities of lost jobs, rural slums, poverty and social disintegration. 

Putting On Airs

 (Ron Thomason) covers many subjects, ranging from poverty to racism, education to the arts, class differences to testosterone, horses to music, all in an absorbing, flowing drawl...I can¹t think of a better introduction to American music Dry Branch is so much more than a bluegrass band.