Music fans around our area are very familiar with The Seldom Scene, as the popular American bluegrass band has been performing around Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., since it first formed in Bethesda, Md., back in 1971.
The group has been instrumental in starting the progressive bluegrass movement as their shows often include bluegrass versions of country music, rock and even pop.
On New Year’s Eve, The Seldom Scene will be playing at The Birchmere, in a show that starts at 7:30 p.m., due to restrictions that necessitate the venue close before midnight hits. Still, the band promises plenty of fun and it’s a great way to get ready for 2021.
“It’s a pretty long-standing tradition with the band to play New Year’s Eve there, and it was actually my first show when I joined the band back in 1995,” said Ronnie Simpkins, long-time bass player for The Seldom Scene. “It’s a night I’ll never forget. I can’t believe another year has come and gone, but I suppose this a year we all want to forget.”
Today’s lineup also includes Dudley Connell on guitar, Lou Reid on mandolin, Ron Stewart on banjo and fiddle, and Fred Travers on dobro. Since the pandemic started, the band members haven’t been able to play much together outside of a spattering of outdoor and socially distanced gigs.
“We did a show in Frederick at a drive-in and that was interesting and neat, but we may need to do more things like that next year to keep us going,” Simpkins said.
When the band first began, everyone had full-time day jobs—there was a doctor, a mathematician, a cardiographer and a firefighter, and though some of the band members are now retired, a few still need to balance work and music.
“For instance, I work for the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings,” Simpkins said. “So, music has always been like a hobby for the band. That’s been a blessing especially during this year since we didn’t need to totally rely on the music for income.”
Everyone in The Seldom Scene was excited to learn that The Birchmere planned to be open for New Year’s Eve and wanted them back—even it meant that they had to end before the ball dropped to welcome in 2021.
“It’s such a special place and we actually played there Thanksgiving weekend, so we know they space things out well and we felt very comfortable and safe playing in the venue, because of the precautions and restrictions they’ve taken,” Simpkins said. “Yes, it will be different because by 10, alcohol has to be stopped, but we can ring in the new year a little early together!”
The night will include plenty of band favorites, but Simpkins wants to make sure everyone has a great time and anticipates throwing out to the crowd to get song suggestions and play any requests.
“They are putting forth an effort to go out and hear live music, and we really appreciate that,” Simpkins said. “That will most likely be our approach to the show.”
One thing Simpkins will miss this year is mingling with the crowd and talking to fans, but that’s one thing that can’t be done for obvious reasons. Still, he feels everyone will feel close because of the shared love of music and the fun of spending the last night of 2020 together.
Thanks to the band’s incredible catalogue of music, which includes the bluegrass staple, “Live From the Cellar Door,” The Seldom Scene has remained popular for 50 years. Simpkins credits a lot of that to the harmonies and singing style of original founder John Duffey.
“It’s hard to fill those shoes, but it’s just an honor to be in this group,” Simpkins said. “When the band started, they pulled from different genres of music and created such an interest in bluegrass, and many will point to The Seldom Scene as leading them in that direction. With the material we have done over the years, the songs are just too good not to be heard.”