Larry Keel's Hootenanny


There's nothing like authentic Blue Ridge Mountain music for a relaxing summer's evening. Throwing in some reggae and indie rock makes it even better. Virginia native and current Rockbridge County resident Larry Keel and his acoustic band, Natural Bridge, return to Charlottesville, bringing along their sleek and savvy bluegrass sound.

"We play a mix of bluegrass– old traditional songs–, reggae songs, rock and roll songs, original music," Keel says. "We throw in some indie sounds for the kids, then make them listen to bluegrass."

Growing up in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Keel was introduced to traditional bluegrass guitar and banjo sounds through his father and brother. As he developed a sound of his own, he drew in a variety of influences, from Jerry Garcia and Jimi Hendrix to Miles Davis and Bob Marley. Growing in talent, Keel spent seven months playing in Tokyo's Disney Land, where he "played music in a goofy cowboy hat and boots."

"I went there and played six shows a day, a half-hour show, then a half-hour off, then another half-hour show," Keel says. "Having to play all the time really makes you fluid."

Returning to the States, Keel began a band of his own, the Larry Keel Experience, comprised of his wife on bass and rotating banjo and mandolin players. After ten years, the band found a solid sound in banjoist Jason Flournoy and mandolin player Mark Schimick. The band came together under the moniker Natural Bridge, inspired by their current location in Lexington. The band has gone on to tour across the country – up to 150 shows a year – drawing critical acclaim for their contemporary twist on the southern traditional bluegrass sound.

"We play good energy music, we like to get everyone moving," Keel says of the band's performances. "I do a lot of writing, so we play original music– I don't know what you'd classify it as, but it's a blend of everything. We like to mix it all up, give everyone a little something."

Keel and Natural Bridge last stopped in Charlottesville last December to play the now defunct Satellite Ballroom with Tommy Rice, a "fabulous guitar player," according to Keel.

"We've played several different venues– Starr Hill, Millers," Keel says. "I love coming back there, and hopefully we can get a good venue so that we can come back and frequent the town."

Despite bringing modern influences to the historically rich sound of Virginia bluegrass, Keel stays true to the traditional purity of what is oft-defined as "mountain music." Drawing influence from his home base on House Mountain in nearby Rockbridge County and his upbringing in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Keel and Natural Bridge return to Charlottesville with a crisp, yet eclectic, twist on a southern sound.

Larry Keel and Natural Bridge performs at Fridays After Five on 8/1. Birdlips opens.