The story of the Harmony Grits begins in Santa Cruz, California in 1985, when Mike McKinley, an itinerant bluegrass mandolin player from Michigan, met Jim Lewin, Jeff Baldwin and Doug Marcus, members of an infamous electric jam band - The Continental Drifters. The Drifters, who had originally evolved from a bluegrass band, focused on original tunes and had gained a wide following in the Santa Cruz area.
Mike (mandolin), Jim (guitar), Jeff (dobro) and Doug (bass) began playing as a band almost immediately. The group started out busking downtown and soon were playing everywhere from organic harvest parties to large concerts and fairs. The band fused a sound that was contemporary while honoring its earthy acoustic roots. They quickly found that they sang well together, got along, and had the support a large extended family of music-loving friends. The Harmony Grits were officially born.
The Grits play the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium - photo by Gillian Welch
The band soon completed their first project, a self-titled cassette recorded live on a microphone shaped in the likeness of a human head. The tape sold throughout the western states as their trail of gigs brought them as far as Arizona, Washington and Colorado.
During the early 90s, the Grits began playing major acoustic and crossover acoustic/electric festivals throughout California. They became regulars at the Strawberry Music Festival outside of Yosemite. Their Spring 1992 Strawberry performance was recorded and later released as the bands first CD "Music From Scratch" (mastered at Airshow by David Glasser). MFS received favorable reviews from both Bluegrass Unlimited and Dirty Linen, and their "Gospel Bong" became a staple on americana and folk radio stations such as Santa Cruz's maverick KPIG. Elderly Instruments gave the album a "Hot Platter" designation and it was played around the world.
Dance Your Nukes Off at the Civic
In the mean time, the Grits have continued to pile on the gigs - playing continuously for fifteen years. They have appeared as a supporting band for some of their musical heroes, such as Ralph Stanley, Peter Rowan, Bill Monroe, Neil Young, Hot Rize, John Sebastian, Eddy Adcock and their good friend Gillian Welch. They have had the opportunity to play in some of the best venues as well, including Strawberry, High Sierra, the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, the Catalyst and the Kuumbwa in Santa Cruz, the Iron Door Saloon, the Fillmore and Pauls Saloon (in SF), and many great gigs for the Santa Cruz Bluegrass Society.
In addition, they have hosted the annual Santa Cruz Bluegrass Fair for the twelve years since its inception and continue to play their monthly gig (every second Saturday since 1987) at the San Gregorio General Store. The Store is an old California General Store that serves as an outlet not only for dry goods, but books, music and drink (in essence a rural community center for handful of residents of coastal San Gregorio). The Store has become the Grits overall favorite place to play and band is currently completing a CD of collected recordings from their many shows there.
Another Saturday show in San Gregorio
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