Mike Auldridge may not be a household name, but to fans of bluegrass music, especially in the Washington area, where he lived and frequently performed for nearly half a century, it’s as recognizable as RGIII. A master of the Dobro, an acoustic guitar known for its distinctive metallic resonance, Auldridge died in December at the age of 73.
On Tuesday, a platoon of musicians assembled at the Birchmere to celebrate his legacy. Many of them, including members of the Seldom Scene, the legendary progressive bluegrass band that Auldridge co-founded in 1971, had collaborated with Auldridge. All of them were profoundly influenced by him.
Jerry Douglas, who raised the profile of the Dobro even higher through his work with Alison Krauss and Union Station, called him simply, “My hero.” Sally Van Meter, also a Dobroist, spoke of being personally transformed by Auldridge’s approach to the instrument — the dimensionality, nuance and energy of his phrasing.
Stretching nearly four hours with an intermission, Tuesday’s tribute centered in particular on a pair of solo albums Auldridge released in 1972 and ’74 — “Dobro” and “Blues and Bluegrass,” respectively. The material revealed the expressive range of acoustic music as Auldridge imagined it. There was the traditional “House of the Rising Sun,” whose unmistakable melody was a perfect vehicle for both the Dobro and David Bromberg’s six-string acoustic slide guitar; a darkly funky blues called “Everybody Slides”; and the country ballad “Take Me,” sung in a heartfelt tenor Tuesday by the Scene’s Lou Reid. The band Chesapeake repurposed the Van Morrison hit “Moondance.”
Instrumental jams such as “Rock Bottom” and “Pickaway” were a showcase for all the virtuoso soloists on hand: banjoists Mike Munford and Ben Eldridge, fiddler Rickie Simkins, mandolinist Jimmy Gaudreau, flatpicking guitarist Chris Luquette, and — rounding out this sumptuous feast of Dobroists — Fred Travers and Rob Ickes.
Singer-songwriters Eric Brace and Peter Cooper paired on the vocally driven “Suffer a Fool” and “Wait a Minute,” both reminders of how Auldridge believed bluegrass could be relevant to the pop-folk landscape of the 1970s.
The capacity audience that turned out Tuesday palpably anticipated the appearance of singer Emmylou Harris. The most famous of Auldridge’s admirers, Harris delivered a brief but mesmerizing trio of songs: “Satan’s Jewel Crown,” “Making Believe” and “One of These Days.”
Tantalizingly, Harris suggested that Tuesday’s tribute to Auldridge should be an annual occasion.
To which the bluegrass aficionados there gathered could only reply: From her mouth to the booking gods’ ears.
Galupo is a freelance writer.