When Grammy and IBMA-award-winning Dobro player, songwriter, and bandleader Jerry Douglas is touring as part of Alison Krauss’ band Union Station, there’s a phrase he likes to use for a night when he feels like working a lot of high-wire improvisation into his playing.
He tells his bandmates that “it feels like Tuesday” to let them know to get ready for some curveballs. The other members of Union Station are skilled enough at their bluegrass-country-folk hybrid music to handle Douglas’ wildest playing, but they’re not as game for it as Douglas’ namesake band, who will perform the headlining Sunday night set at BB&T Fall for Greenville this year.
“With my band,” Douglas says with a laugh, “it’s always Tuesday, that’s for sure.”
A quick spin through The Jerry Douglas Band’s 2017 album “What If” bears that out in spades. With Douglas’ quicksilver Dobro-playing leading the way, his ensemble flies through high-speed jazz (“Cavebop”), heavy blues-rock with a dash of New Orleans brass (“2:19”), and a shimmering folk ballad (“Go Ahead and Leave”), trying on different styles like clothes and playing up a storm.
The album is simply further proof, if any were needed, that after appearing on more than 1,600 albums as either a sideman, producer, or leader — yes, you read that correctly — Douglas obeys no rules other than his own.
His foundation after more than 40 years as a professional musician remains bluegrass, though, even as he stretches and bends the genre into something new. And it’s not just because he loves that music.
“The thing about bluegrass is that it’s improvisational music,” he says. “That’s why some of us were able to move it towards different genres. We changed the substance and the chord structures but still used these instruments that are based in bluegrass.”
The “we” Douglas refers to are his musical peers, such as banjo player Bela Fleck and mandolin player Sam Bush. They’ve all pushed the boundaries of bluegrass, and acoustic music in general, for decades.
“That’s been our modus operandi,” Douglas says. “It’s closer to jazz, in that I’m making a statement in the front of the song and then the gates are wide open to where you want to take that as long as you get back to where you started.”
The Fall for Greenville performance will be the band’s first show together since mid-July, and Douglas says he’s looking forward to diving into the musical unknown again after a long stretch with a more traditional group.
“I just finished a long stretch with the Earls of Leicester (pronounced ‘Lester’),” Douglas says, “and that’s just the opposite of this. It’s a dyed-in-the-wool bluegrass band that plays all Flatt and Scruggs material. We don’t go too far outside of what was originally stated by the guys who created that music. So when I get back with my band it takes me a few minutes to give myself the OK to just go. We all get on this wild ride together, and we shake our heads and laugh at the end at what’s just taken place.”
If you go
- What: The Jerry Douglas Band
- When: 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14
- Where: Carolina Chevy Stage, BB&T Fall for Greenville
- Info: https://fallforgreenville.net/