Iowa Alumni Magazine | December 2005 | Reviews

A Band of Brothers, Bluegrass Performance by Alan and Aleta Murphy, Dale Thomas, Bob Black, Mike and Amy Finders, et. al.

By Karen McCort & Carol Wilcox

Harvest Home
Harvest Home,
Alan and Aleta Murphy
(sample)
Hello Lord It's Me Again
Hello Lord It's Me Again,
Dale Thomas
(sample)
Ladies on the Steamboat
Ladies on the Steamboat,
Bob Black
(sample)
Where You Are
Where You Are,
Mike and Amy Finders Band
(sample)

The synergy builds as musicians amplify each other’s talents in the Burlington Street Bluegrass Band.

Walk into The Mill in Iowa City on any first or third Wednesday evening of the month and you’ll likely see a motley crowd of fans gathering for another live performance by the Burlington Street Bluegrass Band.

In the audience are grandparents with their kids and grandchildren, a baby in a high chair, several regulars chatting with each other, couples of all ages, and two blonde youngsters who later show they’re as comfortable performing as their dad, Mike Finders, 02MA, the man who brought the musicians together.

The Burlington Street Bluegrass Band, with more than a century and a half of bluegrass experience combined, comprises Finders from the Mike and Amy Finders Band on guitar; Dale Thomas, 61BA, who’s been entertaining audiences for 55 years, on dobro; the Harvest Home duo of Alan Murphy playing fiddle and Aleta Murphy, 74BA, 00MSN, on bass; Joe Peterson, 81BA, from Big Wooden Radio playing mandolin; and Bob Black, one of Bill Monroe’s early Bluegrass Boys, on banjo. With the musicians all having performing groups of their own, this band was formed by Finders to celebrate great pickers in the community.

When the group was featured on WSUI radio’s Talk of Iowa Live at the Java House last summer, Alan Murphy grinned broadly as he told host Ben Kieffer, 86BA, that the best thing about the musicians in the Burlington Street Bluegrass Band is that they don’t have or need any additional practice to enjoy performing together. With this group, it’s a toss-up as to who has more fun, the band or the audience.

Onstage, one musician after another takes the lead playing a melody the others quickly join. Listeners hear the Midwestern country folk signature of Finders, the Murphys’ classic backwoods bluegrass sound, rock influences from Big Wooden Radio, and Thomas’s seductive bass vocals and spiritual heritage.

This group of respected Iowa musicians digs down to the roots of bluegrass. Bob Black played banjo as one of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys from 1974 to 1976. “That is where bluegrass music came from,” says Black, who is well known for his unique melodic banjo style that’s been compared to the sounds of classical guitar.

As the musicians play, they pass melodies of traditional songs, such as “Are You ’Shamed To Call Me Darling?” and “I Want to Be Loved–But Only by You,” around and around, from instrument to instrument, with each musician adding a unique spice to the skillfully played licks. The instrumentals are gorgeous, quick and connected. The vocals are harmoniously blended with a rich, wholesome old-time country sound that is relaxed and comfortable.

Whether you’re a bluegrass fanatic or have never listened to it before, this group’s music will lift your spirits, get your toes tappin’, and recharge your energy. If you live near Iowa City, come out and hear them; otherwise, check out CDs from their various individual groups.