The Breeze

October 26 2017                                                                                                           Bluegrass band Special Consensus to play at Court Square Theatre          Abigail Wallen                                                                                                                breezejmu.org

With the leaves changing and the weather finally cooling down, autumn is in full swing here in Harrisonburg. In addition to apple-picking and pumpkin-carving, one local venue downtown is offering students and locals another Virginia autumn classic — live bluegrass music. 

This Friday, the internationally acclaimed bluegrass band Special Consensus will appear in Harrisonburg at the Court Square Theater downtown. The concert will begin at 8 p.m. and tickets can be purchased for $12 in advance, and $15 at the door.

Founded in the late 1970’s and still going strong, Special Consensus originated in Chicago and continues to reach audiences across America, Australia, the UK and even Finland.

“What we really like to do is have it sound like good bluegrass music, but more current,” Greg Cahill, the manager and banjoist for Special Consensus, said. “We try to keep the material just about everyday life now, in the present.”

Special Consensus got its start back in the ‘70s when a group of friends attended a bluegrass festival together in Chicago. The group heard the music and instantly began trying it out themselves, playing their instruments and singing in the hallways during the festival. They soon after decided to form their own bluegrass band.

“We were really all good friends,” Cahill said. “All of us were coming from different musical backgrounds and loved bluegrass music. Because we were all from different musical places, but loved bluegrass, it was a consensus, you know, a special consensus.”

Over 40 years later, the band has branched out far beyond Chicago. Special Consensus continues to play all around the country, especially in areas where bluegrass is most popular. The band just finished a performance in Nashville this past Saturday before heading up to Harrisonburg for their performance this Friday.

In 2016, Special Consensus released its most recent album “Long I Ride,” for which it received its third International Bluegrass Music Association award. The album contains diverse tracks ranging from upbeat, toe-tappers like “Fireball” to more mellow ballads, such as “New Shenandoah.”

The band originally heard about the venue while playing at a festival in Pennsylvania. They were told that the theater had a great reputation with a strong crowd of bluegrass lovers, so they decided to add it to their tour. They now try to come back to Harrisonburg whenever they can. This Friday will be the band’s second appearance at the Court Square Theater, its first being in the fall of 2015.

“We were kind of branching out trying to get new bluegrass acts,” Mark Finks, manager of the Court Square Theater, said. “They definitely got a very warm reception from the crowd. Everyone seemed to really like the show. They put on a great performance.”

The Court Square Theater is a part of the Arts Council In The Valley, a non-profit organization geared toward supporting the local arts community in Harrisonburg. In addition to Special Consensus, Court Square Theater hosts many events geared towards Harrisonburg locals, such as plays and film screenings.

“We’re a community theater,” Finks said. “We’re a non-profit, independent organization, so I think a lot of people like to support that.”

In addition to supporting and promoting music groups like Special Consensus, the Arts Council hopes to encourage JMU students to experience the local art community through attending shows like the one this Friday.

“Something we’re working on in particular is encouraging JMU students to come out of their bubble,” Cate Bruns, communications and administrative assistant for the Arts Council, said. “We want JMU students to know how much we are doing out here.”

The performance this Friday will include some of Special Consensus’ most popular tracks, with a few non-bluegrass numbers thrown in such as a cappella songs and Celtic tunes. “We just kinda mix it up,” Cahill said. The band hopes that the show will have a little something for everyone.

“The audience is as important to the performers as the performers are to the audience,” Cahill said. “It’s all one big connection, and that’s a great thing. We just want to be able to go be part of the show, and forget about the trials and tribulations of everyday life.”