Muy Bueno: A pre-techno trance party at Big Ed's. 

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You’d never guess Big Ed’s could hold a band. Housed in a windowless box of bricks with a colorful burger mural and sign-boards advertising dirt-cheap specials, the tiny diner seems just big enough to hold a few rowdy college kids. But Big Ed’s is also home to a bi-weekly music party with the Bueno Avenue String Band holding things down every second and fourth Friday. n

At one gig, the local band broke out some banjos, a guitar, fiddle and an upright bass. A group of hipsters sat at the table closest to the “stage” conversing about the lameness of past professors. Their perceived cool-factor was threatened by Chris Gleason’s (fiddle, vocals) request to make room by pushing tables together. The kids complied with rolled eyes and whispered sarcasm, finished eating then ventured into the night in search of something cooler.

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But what’s cooler than old-time music? It predates bluegrass and the dance culture associated with genre emphasizes rhythmic drive over performance. Big Ed’s has very little room for dancing, though a little girl poised herself to boogie down. With the upright bass finally in tune, the acoustic ruckus went off. Gleason’s syncopated fiddle saws met Jim Weigel’s claw hammering banjo, Noel Black picked the melody and strummed guitar chords simultaneously while Ryan Hayes laid down the low end and a lovely banjo-strumming lady named Britt sat in on the jam. The melody played by all droned on repeatedly in some sort of pre-techno trance.

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A few days later, Gleason and I sat in his wood shop between the train tracks and the freeway near 600 north, where he designs and builds custom furniture.

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“It’s a very funny town.” Gleason says. “We’ve been here for five years. Of course, when I got to town, I was big into music, so immediately went to things like the City Weekly and Websites with event listings and just found shocking amounts of heavy metal, and along with that the indie-rock thing, like Kilby Court, which I’m so glad is there but it seems completely irrelevant to what I’m doing.”

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After rattling off a list of favorite current bands, Gleason describes Bueno’s scene.

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“All these bands are very active in a dance sub-culture. That is the way in for a lot of people. You don’t have to play an instrument, but a lot of people do enjoy showing up to a big ol’ rowdy barn dance, having a few beers, and then just getting sweaty and running around with their friends. It’s a neat way to have community with people.”

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And the dancing often leads to playing music.

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“You can see it throughout the West in these cities where it’s going on. What invariably happens is someone goes, ‘Wow, man. That was awesome. I’d love to learn to play the—insert instrument here—you know, guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin.’ So they do. They find one at a flea market or from their uncle, and they pursue that and, over time, that builds up,” he says. “If you go to Portland, there is a square dance every night of the week, and they are thriving. It is such a celebration of do-it-yourself-culture. This is an opportunity for people to shut off the TV and go hang out with each other and just have a ball. It’s low-tech, it’s simple, and it’s cheap.

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“I’d like to be able to host our own dance,” Gleason says, identifying a void in Salt Lake City culture. “Because I do feel like the particular vibe that our band is trying to put out is a fairly unique thing compared to the old-time scene that is here which may not be appealing to people that are 20 or 30 unless they are kind of already sold on the music. I feel like the right personality and the right vibe is critical for attracting people. It’s not enough to be a good musician. You have to be accessible, and appealing, and friendly, and welcoming in a way that people can really get behind.”

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Gleason is working to bridge gaps in the local scene.

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“One of the interests of our band in general, in this town that is not necessarily geared toward us, where we recognize that it’s maybe a slightly uphill battle, is in having people play with us—whether it’s front-porch jams or teaching, my vision isn’t just to sit there and do what I do. I like it so much, I want to do whatever I can to propagate it. There are a million people in this whole Wasatch Front and so, what are the chances that there are 50 or a 100 people that would be pretty into old-time? Pretty darn good, if you ask me,” he says. “It’s a question of finding those people and getting them really psyched and really turned onto it. I’m optimistic about our chances around here.”

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THE BUENO AVENUE STRING BAND
nBig Ed’s, 210 University St., 2nd & 4th Fridays, 8 p.m.
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