When farm-raised U-M undergrad Chad Williams started WCBN-FM’s Bill Monroe for Breakfast program in 1995, it was a gutsy move: almost no one was playing bluegrass in our town. But the scene has grown consistently since then, and the launch of Detroit Street Filling Station’s new Bluegrass Wednesdays in January brought a full house to the restaurant. With Michigan Radio moving the repeat of ace mandolinist Chris Thile’s Live from Here music variety show (formerly A Prairie Home Companion) to Sunday night in a bid to capture younger listeners, bluegrass seems to be having a moment.
The Filling Station’s house band, Wire in the Wood, describes itself as a “prog-bluegrass locomotive pulling a lonesome psych-folk boxcar and a swingin’ Hot-Club caboose.” Their shows are put together to draw a varied crowd; one of the players was involved with the popular Bluegrass Nights at the Circus Bar a few years back, so they know what they’re doing.
In its root form Wire in the Wood is a trio, singing mostly originals by vocalist-guitarist Billy Kirst along with classic and traditional bluegrass numbers. The other members are bassist Ryan Shea and Jordan Adema, whose instrument is billed as a violin, not a fiddle.
Adema can play it both ways, sawing out the old-time numbers but cultivating the smoother West Coast style even with, at times, a bit of vibrato. For the second set the band brought other musicians aboard, turning in the direction of classic jazz tunes like “Exactly Like You” before veering back to bluegrass, now roughed up with a banjo, at the end. “Bring your instruments,” says the Facebook event page, and this band has the vocabulary to adapt to whoever does.
The restaurant is set up nicely for acoustic music, with a single pillar setting the music area off but not blocking sight lines. The acoustics work: you can talk or listen, and neither group will bother the other. In January, solo guitarist Jake Reichbart was playing on other nights, and one night was booked for Lesbo Bingo. Whenever you go, the food’s good, the kitchen’s open late (a tough find downtown on a midwinter weekday), and the place is cozy without being crowded.