When The Grass Cats formed in the late '90s, they never dreamed of competing for attention with people like Sam Bush. But, 10 years later, that's just where the band stands: Their latest single "Pill or Potion," written by mandolin player Russell Johnson, continues to gain accolades across the country as their latest album, Home to Carolina, climbs the Bluegrass Unlimited Charts, the 'grass equivalent of Billboard.
The Grass Cats didn't start out with lofty dreams, though. Banjo player and senior Cat Tim Woodall recalls the simple beginnings: "Our first show was at a grand opening for a garden center store out in Southern Pines. We were all playing in different bands at the time but we had been playing some 'grass together and decided to book this show. That's when The Grass Cats were born—at a garden party."
The quintet has remained true to that ethos, carting their banjo, mandolin, fiddle, bass and guitar to local clubs around the Triangle. Though The Grass Cats have garnered national attention, the quintet remains a loyal bunch, rejecting national touring offers to play local pubs and short tours in neighboring states. They bring the music to their people, booking regular shows at Mac's Tavern in Cary and Napper Tandy's in downtown Raleigh.
"Traveling is kinda a hassle," says Woodall. "It's just more fun to play for the people you write the music for."
The Grass Cats love introducing both young and old folks to the bluegrass tradition they carry with them. They rework songs by Tim McGraw, Pete Townshend and The Heights for accessibility's sake, pairing them with more traditional fare and their old tunes.
"We play the standards, the classics—you know, Flatt & Scruggs, Stanley and Monroe—but we throw in some reworked rock and country covers, too," says Woodall. "We're not straight-up traditionalists, but we're not newgrass either. We like to put on a good show, get people interested in the music."
The Grass Cats play WQDR 94.7's Bluegrass Festival at The Lincoln Theatre Saturday, April 14. Tickets are $9.47 in advance, $15 day of show. Sam Bush headlines, with Tony Williamson and Rift, The Greencards, The Bluegrass Experience, Barefoot Manner, Old Habits and Barrel House Mamas joining the two-stage bill. The music starts at 4 p.m.