When it comes to progressive bluegrass, few were more influential than New Grass Revival. Formed in 1971 by Sam Bush, at the height of its popularity it featured future Grammy winner Bela Fleck, soul singer/current Doobie Brothers’ bassist John Cowan, and guitarist/songwriter Pat Flynn.
So when Cowan invited the duo of Darin and Brooke Aldridge – who lead their own chart-topping bluegrass band out of Cherryville – to perform with him on the road, accepting the invitation was a no-brainer.
Cowan and the Aldridges play McGlohon Theater Sunday.
Darin Aldridge, who spent seven years in the equally influential Country Gentlemen, met Cowan long ago at Green Acres Music Hall in Bostick, N.C., while working with Acoustic Syndicate. They met again when Cowan’s solo band and the Aldridges played Music City Roots a few years ago, and in 2015 when the couple showed up at his show in Hickory, Cowan invited them on stage to sing.
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“It sounded good, and I told him if he ever needed someone to holler at us or me to fill in,” Darin Aldridge explains. “He had another date coming up that winter close to our home at the Don Gibson Theater in Shelby. Things went so well and a lot videos popped up online. We did about 30 shows together last year.”
That trend continues Sunday, with the group playing Cowan’s solo songs, New Grass Revival songs, probably some left-field covers (the Aldridge’s have covered Meghan Trainor’s “All About that Bass”) and songs from the pair’s new album “Faster and Farther.”
Cowan appears on the record with fellow New Grass veteran Pat Flynn, who penned two of the songs. It also features Vince Gill and debuted at No. 7 on Billboard’s charts in February.
“Things have happened faster in the last two years,” says Aldridge. “That’s the charts, our tour schedule, the people we’ve met and performed with, and pushing farther down the road.”
Brooke and Darin Aldridge met in church and married in 2008. Their early recordings were steeped in traditional gospel and bluegrass, but the last few years have seen them expand their repertoire. Like New Grass Revival, they faced resistance from old-guard bluegrass.
“Our (2013) ‘Flying’ record was very contemporary. It was a mix of things and (the industry) tried to pin it more toward Americana. We were pushing the band’s boundaries on that one. It scared some purists,” he says.
They scored their first No. 1 single with their version of “Tennessee Flat-Top Box” in 2016. The new album has Cowan’s noticeable influence and boasts fresh, contemporary tracks like “Til Death Do Us Part” and “Mountains in Mississippi.”
In April, they return to Merlefest, which Aldridge began attending in his late teens. He marvels at the journey.
“Watching people like Alison Krauss, Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill and Tony Rice the first time and then getting to go several years later and play?” he says. He and his wife also got to know Doc Watson toward the end of his life. “He asked us to eat lunch with him one spring day before he passed. We sat on his front porch, picked and sang and listened to him talk about his son Merle and going to heaven to see him.”
As the band’s notoriety grows, its members wonder if they’ll have to leave their native Carolina.
“More and more I think we’ll have to move that way,” Aldridge says of Nashville. “There’s a lot more business we have to do there and we could do other things in town.”
Mounting success is what Aldridge had in mind all along.
“It’s good to get the business end to catch up with those dreams,” he says. “It’s steady work all the time. It’s not just G chords and riding up the road.”
John Cowan, with Darin and Brooke Aldridge
When: 7 p.m. Sunday.
Where: McGlohon Theater, 345 N. College St.