The Bigger Picture

Late Model Bluegrass

by Matt Hendrickson

Ask Bryan Simpson, mandolin player and bandleader for the progressive bluegrass outfit, Cadillac Sky what his favorite artist is and the answer might surprise you. Bill Monroe? Nope. Foggy Mountain Boys? Guess again. “I love Radiohead,” Simpson says, referring to the English art rockers who have been dubbed the 21st-century version of Pink Floyd. “They’re such a creative force. They’re digging deep and have become their own sound. That’s what we’re trying to do, where people hear us and just say, ‘That’s Cadillac Sky.’”

The Fort Worth-based band is making its mark with a second album, Gravity’s Our Enemy, grounded in traditional bluegrass sounds but veering into more exploratory territory with Beatles-esque harmonies and ferocious instrumental jams. Not to mention Simpson’s vivid storytelling and penchant for dark comedy, especially on tracks like the raucous “Inside Joke” and the twisted broken-heart lament “Hate How Happy She Is.”

“I like to say we’re a sensitive string band on steroids with a sense of humor,” Simpson says laughing. “There are lighter moments. We want people to walk away from our shows with a smile.” Their growing fanbase is a diverse group, with everyone from college age jam-band fans going crazy in the front while older fans nod appreciatively in the back. “When I first heard Cadillac Sky, I heard some of the freshest music I’ve heard in a long time,” says Ricky Skaggs who signed the band to his label. “Their vocals just killed me.”

The 33-year-old Simpson grew up in Fort Worth accompanying his grandfather — a dyed-in-the-wool traditional bluegrass lover — to various music festivals around the state, soaking up the sounds, and quickly discerning which bands were great and which were terrible. One of the first bands that made an impact was Hot Rize, a popular progressive bluegrass band in the late 70s and early 80s. “They showed me what bluegrass could be as opposed to what it was supposed to be,” Simpson says.

Simpson started playing guitar at age 5, the fiddle at 9, and messed around in various bands through his high school career and during a stint in Nashville. In 2002, after moving back to Fort Worth, a friend suggested he check out banjo player Matt Menefee, who was playing at a local club. After the gig, the two jammed in the parking lot then went to a relative’s house to talk music. Hours later, the band was born, with a lineup now rounded out by fiddler Ross Moritz, bassist Andy Moritz, and guitarist David Mayfield.

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