- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2006

When Darol Anger was a young, hot-shot musician, he treated older players as his college: All the wisdom they had to impart, he soaked up.

Now that he’s 52 and one of those wizened players himself, Mr. Anger’s done more than simply teach the next generation. He’s built a whole band based on the idea.

“There seems to be a lot of respect between the ages,” he says from his California home. “I love what the younger players are doing. They have open minds … they have a feeling for what older people have done and what they’ve achieved.”

His multigenerational group, Darol Anger’s Republic of Strings, plays tonight at Jammin’ Java in Vienna.

Mr. Anger has had anything but a conventional music career. Picking up the violin early in life, he quickly moved beyond classical music into jazz, bluegrass and a style he helped pioneer, dubbed “new acoustic.”

Over several decades of playing, he stepped in and out of genres and frequently mashed them all together. In outfits like the David Grisman Quintet, the Turtle Island String Quartet and the Montreux Band, he honed his skills and made a name for himself.

“David [Grisman] and I have both really consciously tried to stretch the definition of what an acoustic string band is capable of,” Mr. Anger says.

It was the idea of putting together experienced players and young, up-and-coming musicians that sparked the idea for the Republic of Strings, he says.

Initially the group was dubbed the American Fiddle Ensemble. Mr. Anger changed the name to Republic of Strings both because he liked the idea and because a booking agent suggested it fit better on a sign.

“It sort of constitutes this nation tied together by a common love of music,” he says.

While the makeup of the ensemble rotates, tonight will feature Mr. Anger, acoustic guitarist Scott Nygaard and young musicians Tristan Clarridge on cello and Jeremy Kittel on fiddle.

“Generation Nation,” the second album from the ensemble, was released early this month. The songs that Republic of Strings plays are sometimes obscure, but often are so familiar they can be heard on any oldies station.

Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools” (written by Don Covay) and Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird” are just two examples from “Generation Nation.” To Mr. Anger, the music from the 1960s is so ingrained in popular culture that it has become “American traditional music.”

The challenge is to make a song that has only strings resonate as deeply as an original tune that might feature drums, horns and electric guitars, he says. The only requirement is that the music be good.

Republic of Strings is known to improvise in concert, taking chances and letting the give-and-take between musicians and the listeners rule the night.

“You kind of get on the high wire a little bit,” Mr. Anger says of improvisation. “We’re just trying to have it be a conversation between the band and the audience.”

Mr. Anger’s goal is to make the group sound like nothing else out there and he has noticed a growing appetite around the world for the kind of original music the ensemble produces, he says.

If all goes well, the Republic of Strings is only just getting started.

“I’m hoping this band goes on as long as I can hoist a fiddle on my shoulder,” Mr. Anger says. “I think this is something that has legs.”

• • •

If all it had going for it was a clever name, The Alphabetical Order might not be all that great. To the District band’s credit, though, it also happens to have some catchy songs to back up the quirky handle.

The group formed in 2004 and began playing local venues within months, releasing a six-song EP last year that can be sampled online. “The Unimpeachable EP,” featuring guitarist/vocalist Gavin Dunaway, bass player/vocalist Kate Rears, guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Gabe Fry and drummer Chris McKinney, highlights the band’s knack for writing the kind of good pop rock that seems all too absent from radio stations today.

A full album is supposed to be ready by next year, but get a sneak preview of what’s in store when the group plays Tuesday at the Black Cat in the District.

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