Bluegrass music typically conjures up images of dusty rural folk posted up on a wooden porch with a “XXX” bottle nearby serving as the inspiration and compensation for a good song. And while that may hold true in some corners of the country, Falls Church’s own Leesburg Pike Bluegrass brings a more refined look while preserving the genre’s down-home charm to the main stage for Watch Night 2019 this New Year’s Eve.
Falls Church resident and current bassist for the band, Wade Casstevens, was originally in a guitar, bass and fiddle trio called “The Primers.” But with a fiddle player who moved abroad and a tendency for guitar players to am-scray like Spinal Tap’s drummers, as Casstevens quipped, the group was always in flux. It wasn’t until fellow Falls Church resident and fiddler Dan Henderson met Casstevens at a Capitol Area Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Association jamming event in summer 2015 where they found out they shared a mutual interest in wanting to learn bluegrass.
With Casstevens’ background in rock n’ roll and Henderson’s in classical music, the two began their bluegrass journey together. Both locals served as the band’s core as turnover kept Leesburg Pike Bluegrass from fully crystallizing, until they finally found some keepers in banjo player Page Duppstadt, mandolinist Dan Shipp and guitarist Chris Teskey to round out the quintet in the past six months. Despite the latter three members being about a generation older than Casstevens and Henderson, their addition to the band fleshes out the “young guns’” knowledge of the musical style and the culture that goes with it.
“We feel very lucky to play with them because it does feel like passing a torch down from generation to generation from them,” Henderson said. “They share their musical wisdom with us, and they sit around and talk about the bluegrass legends and stories. So they bring that spoken tradition that comes with bluegrass.”
Leesburg Pike Bluegrass does about two-thirds of their music as traditional, standard bluegrass songs with the last third being a potpourri of jazz, pop and rock served with a bluegrass-y twist. A majority of their music covers the genre’s prime from its birth in the 1940s to the tail end of its revival in the 80s — long before Casstevens and Henderson had shown interest in bluegrass — but the band takes a democratic approach to how it goes about choosing a song to learn, practice and, eventually, perform.
“One of the unique things about the band is that all five guys, in somewhat equal proportions, come up musical ideas,” Casstevens said, with Henderson noting that Shipp is the group’s de facto vocal coach. “Everyone has a different voice and different ideas. It’s never dull.”
Working through the turnover and finding the homeostasis that comes with any collection of people is finally starting to pay off for the band, with Leesburg Pike Bluegrass concluding a busy fall with 10 gigs. That’s a lot for a group that has everyone balancing day jobs, such as Casstevens in real estate and Henderson in technology start-ups, to go with raising their young families. Landing a spot as one of Watch Night’s three main stage acts is validating sign that whatever doubts the group had in its past, they weren’t worth caving to.
Although the band has confined its musical content to covers, the group is stewing over when to take the leap and start creating original content. They have a rough plan to get into a studio and record something within the next year, but right now they’re still relishing having a steady band — something that’s eluded them for so long.
“We’ve been building this thing for three years…It’s been incubating,” Henderson added. “And now, in the last 6 – 12 months, it feels like it incubated, it’s getting baked, we’ve performed a lot and now it feels like we’ve got a good band and we can get some exposure in places.”
Leesburg Pike Bluegrass will perform from 8:30 – 10 p.m. on the main stage on Watch Night 2019 (corner of Broad St. and Washington St.). For more information on the band, visit facebook.com/leesburgpikebluegrass.