The Golden Age

The 6th annual RTE 23 Music Festival will feature The Golden Age on Aug. 24 at 5:30 p.m.

Their Cadillac no longer rumbles.

But out of the garage and on the road again thunder Bryan Simpson and Matt Menefee.

Founding members of Cadillac Sky, they now lead The Golden Age. Chromed, gassed and fired up to go, they navigate to the sixth annual RTE 23 Music Festival in Wise, Virginia, on Saturday, Aug. 24. Southwest Virginia’s 49 Winchester and Asheville’s The Fritz chime in on an impressive bill.

“RTE 23 will be our very first show we’ve ever played,” said Matt Menefee. “I’m very excited about the project and I love the music. I think we’ll play some stuff off the new record, maybe dig around in some of our other projects.”

Folks, The Golden Age isn’t even out of the cradle. Recorded last December, their debut album stands at least months removed from its release date.

“We ended up with 14, 15 songs and we’re putting 10 on the album,” Menefee said. “They’re all originals. The mixes are being finalized now. We’ve not shopped it around yet to a label. We’re just hustling to get it finished.”

Simpson and Menefee unveiled two new songs in May. A philosophical mid-tempo “If Rifles Shot Roses” and an irrepressible “Young Love Don’t Age Well” hint of a bluegrass band quite bound and determined to mine new territory, much like its Cadillac Sky predecessor.

“Bryan is a brilliant lyricist; he writes amazing songs,” said Menefee, The Golden Age banjoist. “It’s a John Hartford meets Motown into a rock ‘n’ roll thing. It’s bluegrass meets a modern approach.”

Translated, The Golden Age brand as a bluegrass band of rebels. They’re Jerry Lee Lewis with a banjo, Elvis Presley and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” in overdrive.

“We definitely like being rambunctious with the music,” Menefee said. “There’s a good dose of that on the record. We’re trying new things.”

Reference the Motown hint. If Menefee means what he says, then The Golden Age aim to incorporate sounds of rhythm and blues a la Detroit soul city into their not-so down home bluegrass.

“With arrangements, we pulled from Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye,” Menefee said. “Like, what’s not been done in bluegrass, what’s not been tried. The songs, the singing, the overall vibe – the Motown vibe, golly that’s good.”

Applied to bluegrass as played by The Golden Vibe, listen to Menefee’s banjo. Lean in on the fiddle. Each may at times reach into Motown soul, squeeze aspects of soulful horn sections and emit them through a lens of bluegrass.

Now, that’s new ground broken.

“I hope so,” Menefee said. “It’s hard. It’s nerve-wracking to try something new. Like, is this going to work? It’s definitely exciting. Somebody’s got to keep pressing the boundaries, got to keep trying new things.”

Cadillac parked, Messrs Simpson and Menefee wheel a wonder of another sort in The Golden Age. No less the rumble assembled, their new band intends to stride along its own road. Maybe they’ll crash. Perhaps they’ll roar victorious.

Whichever, make way for a new sound on the road.

“Whatever it is, we’re excited to unleash it on people,” Menefee said. “We ride the spectrum pretty hard.”

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Tom Netherland is a freelance writer. He may be reached at features@bristolnews.com.

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