August 18, 2008
Sparrow Quartet feat. Bela Fleck Puts Crooked Still Out of Business
Boston band starts moving company to pay off new trailer
BOSTON — After eight long months of bitter competition for survival within a highly specialized musical niche, the Sparrow Quartet featuring banjo legend Bela Fleck has finally extinguished the hopes and dreams of its Boston-based competitor Crooked Still.
Both bands featured a highly unusual combination of blonde female singer, traditional American melodies, rumbling cello grooves, state-of-the-art fingerpicked banjo and highly inventive five-string fiddle, often played in a rhythmical style known as “chopping”.
“So much of each band’s appeal was the pure novelty of it. There’s really only room for one band like that at any given festival, and the Sparrow Quartet was able to achieve supremacy,” said Doc Watson, whose annual North Carolina festival Merlefest banned Crooked Still in 2007 for saying “vagina” onstage on a Sunday.
Indeed, many of the lucrative summer festivals Crooked Still counted on to achieve a financially viable summer shunned the Boston band, instead opting to fill the novelty niche in their lineups with the Sparrow Quartet.
“Abigail (Washburn, of Sparrow Quartet) can sing in Chinese, for God’s sake,” said Brittany Haas, Crooked Still’s fiddler. “How can we compete with that? Our singer, Aoife, was totally learning Orphan Girl in Farsi, but we just couldn’t get it together in time to save the band.”
Indeed, the band encountered stiff competition on other fronts, too. “Bela is a multi-Grammy award winning musical supergenius playing a $200,000 banjo. I’m proud we lasted as long as we did,” said Greg Liszt, Crooked Still’s banjo player.
“I’m not unhappy to be retired from banjo playing. I read a lot of books now and I’m finally learning to cook,” said Liszt, adding, “We had a good run of it.”
Since retiring from music, Crooked Still has been taking odd jobs in the Boston area to make ends meet and pay off its new 5’x8’ automotive trailer.
“We’ve reincorporated as a small scale moving company now, specializing in providing affordable assistance to folks changing apartments,” said Corey DiMario, the former band’s bassist and driver.
He added, “We will help you move.”
Former cellist Tristan Clarridge now also works part-time in the men’s apparel section of Urban Outfitters on the corner of 6th Avenue and W. 14th Street in Manhattan.
Said Clarridge, “People pretty much assumed I worked there even when I was in the band, so this is not even really a change for me.”