Silver Spring photographer Chip Py is best known as a go-go fan (and photographer), but the second season of his YouTube show, Locally Grown, expands his range to include more country, folk, and rock. Py—who hosts, directs, and shoots his own show—tapes 20-minute episodes live in his overgrown backyard “yarden” during the summer. He’s just wrapped up his second season of shows with an ambitious entry, “Funk Up the Grass,” that brought acclaimed local bluegrass and funk musicians together to play five songs on a recent hot August day.
Py says the idea had been germinating for some time. “Four years ago, (funk trombonist) Greg Boyer jumped in my car and WAMU’s Bluegrass Country was playing on the radio. I grew up listening to bluegrass and my parents took me all the time to bluegrass festivals. He told me he listens to this all the time… he said that his grandfather listened to bluegrass and that it was his lifelong dream to put his trombone to ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown.'” Boyer refers to it as “Appalachian bebop.”
Py says he always wanted to mix together musicians from various genres “because often while many people think different kinds of music are completely different, if you look at it and work at it, in many ways they are the same.”
Py began planning this episode in January, thinking about the musicians he wanted. Eventually he had seven locally based musicians willing to spend a day, working for free, on the project: Boyer, banjoist Ira Gitlin, Pebble to Pearl singer Dari Jay, guitarist/vocalist Dede Wyland,Team Familiar trumpet player Jasen “O” Holland, fiddle player Patrick McAvinue, and bassist Geff King.
A few of these musicians have established national reputations: Boyer has played brass for years with Parliament-Funkadelic, Chuck Brown, and Prince, and just toured Europe with Maceo Parker; McAvinue was the 2015 International Bluegrass Music Association Instrumentalist of the Year; and Wyland had been a founding member of pioneering newgrass band Tony Trischka and Skyline.
Usually musicians show up to tape Py’s program knowing they’d be playing songs from their own repertoire, but this wasn’t quite the case for this one. Most of the numbers came together in Py’s living room, where the musicians practiced between tapings. This process not only allowed the musicians to stay on task, but it also allowed Py’s video camera, which was shutting because of the oppressive heat, the opportunity to cool down.
The episode opens with a bluegrass jam which merges into George Clinton and Parliament’s “Give up the Funk (We Want the Funk).” Blending the twang and the propulsive brass in a moment’s notice wasn’t always easy but the musicians were satisfied when they succeeded, Py says.
“There’s a behind the scenes clip I put up where ‘O’ is coming up with a horn solo for ‘You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.’ He tooted some stuff out and Ira was saying, ‘No, you’re way off the scales.‘ He was popping that cone on and off the horn, and then he got it, and hit it. There were seven people in that room talking and doing different things, but once they heard him get it, the room got quiet,” concludes Py. The song features gorgeous melancholy solos from trumpet, trombone, and violin plus Jay’s striking soulful delivery of the mournful lyrics.
Nature and weather didn’t always work out for Py’s show this year. “We got rained out every weekend in May because of rain. Between heat and rain we were in a constant state of scheduling and rescheduling,” he observes. Despite those issues, he’s pleased with the show’s progress. He keeps getting requests from musicians to be on the program, he says. “I am really glad that musicians are seeing the show and the ‘yarden’ as a place where they can come and work creatively on projects that otherwise wouldn’t be economically feasible.”