The Devil Makes Three’s performance on Saturday night at the second annual FreshGrass Bluegrass Festival is billed as a barn dance — which is not really much different from the rowdy trio’s usual club gigs.
“I think probably what they mean is that it’s general admission, with no seats, which is great,” vocalist and guitarist Pete Bernhard said recently from southern Vermont, where the group was gathered for rehearsals before kicking off a two-month East Coast tour that includes FreshGrass.
“We shoot for general admission and dance floor shows, and we really encourage people to dance, so I think that’s what they’re probably going for. As long as we can get people up on their feet, that’ll be really fun.”
FreshGrass Bluegrass Festival
Where: MASS MoCA, 1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, Mass.
When: Friday through Sunday
How Much: Full festival: $46; $26 students; $16 children under 16. Day pass: $25; $15 students; $5 children under 16
More Info: 413 662-2111, www.massmoca.org
Injection of energy
Since first forming in Santa Cruz, Calif., in the early 2000s, the band of Vermont transplants — Bernhard, stand-up bassist Lucia Turino and guitarist and banjoist Cooper McBean — has injected punk rock energy into classic blues, bluegrass, country and ragtime sounds.
It’s no surprise that the live show is what the trio is all about — two of the band’s five albums are live recordings, including last year’s “Stomp and Smash: Live at the Mystic Theatre,” recorded over a two-night stand at the title venue in Petaluma, Calif.
6:30 p.m. — “The Porchlight Sessions” film premiere
8 p.m. — Barn dance with Spirit Family Reunion and Morgan O’Kane
9:15 p.m. — Barn dance with The Infamous Stringdusters
1:30 p.m. — Old-Time Kozmik Trio
2:30 p.m. — Cahalen Morrison and Eli West
3:30 p.m. — Joy Kills Sorrow
4:45 p.m. — Alison Brown
6 p.m. — Tony Rice
7:30 p.m. — David Grisman Bluegrass Experience
9 p.m. — Barn dance with The Devil Makes Three
11 a.m. — Kids Workshop with Mamie Minch
12:45 p.m. — Leyla McCalla
1:45 p.m. — Bill Evans
2:45 p.m. — Lonesome River Band
4 p.m. — Carolina Chocolate Drops
5:30 p.m. — Trampled by Turtles
The three-day FreshGrass festival at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Mass., which begins Friday evening and runs through Sunday evening, is perhaps the most traditionally bluegrass festival the band has performed at — though they are certainly no strangers to the festival circuit. The lineup features artists ranging from legendary banjoists Alison Brown and Bill Evans, to the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience, to more modern groups such as the Carolina Chocolate Drops. (See a full schedule of performers on D3.)
In addition to the performances on multiple stages both inside and outside the museum, each day will feature workshops led by some of the performers, including a banjo workshop led by Evans on Saturday and another with Brown on Sunday. The museum will also screen the bluegrass documentary “The Porchlight Sessions” Friday evening.
The Devil Makes Three will close out the evening on Saturday, performing in the Hunter Center. The trio is excited to bring its own brand of bluegrass to the festival. Having played alongside rock, country and folk musicians in the past, touring with such disparate artists as gypsy punkers Gogol Bordello and country legend Merle Haggard, the group is confident in its ability to fit on a more traditional-minded bill.
“We shoot for more rock music venues when we have a choice, but at festivals we’ve played kind of traditional gigs either opening for country or folk musicians out west and it’s gone really well,” Bernhard said. “I think we can walk in both worlds. . . . We pretty much do the same thing [at all our shows] — we do what we do, do what we feel like doing. We play so many different sorts of festivals and venues that it just — we would be schizophrenic to try to cater to it.”
Although the trio officially formed in Santa Cruz, its roots go back further to Bernhard and McBean’s school years. The two met in eighth grade, and both shared an interest in country and traditional music — though at the time the two were playing in punk and rock bands.
McBean was the first to leave Vermont, heading to Olympia, Wash., soon after graduating from high school. Bernhard meanwhile moved to Nashville for a time to play music with his brother, but eventually went to Olympia himself to try to start another band with McBean.
The way to Santa cruz
“I went out to live with him in Olympia, and then we went on tour, just the two of us,” Bernhard said. “Our car broke down in Santa Cruz, so we borrowed Lucia’s car — we knew her from Vermont. When we got back to Santa Cruz — it’s such a beautiful place. In Olympia there’s freezing cold; it’s rainy and the winter there is pretty miserable. Once we got to Santa Cruz it was so beautiful, we decided we were just gonna move there, and that’s when Lucia joined the band.”
As Vermonters, the band members were able to draw from the Northeast’s rich history of traditional folk and bluegrass. And Bernhard’s stay in Nashville further ingrained his country influences. But when The Devil Makes Three was first starting up, acoustic music in California was “not very big then.”
“We were sort of ignored in a way,” Bernhard said. “At the same time there was no other bands like us, which gave us a huge leg up. If we had started in Nashville, or even in Vermont, Boston or New York, I think there would have been a lot of other bands like us at the time. Out in California there was none, so that was really cool. That’s all changed now.”
A self-titled debut originally appeared in 2002, followed by “Longjohns, Boots and a Belt” in 2004. In 2007, the band signed with Milan, which re-issued the debut album. Their most recent studio set, “Do Wrong Right,” came out in 2009, and found the band further honing its hybrid sound.
“Stomp and Smash” follows 2006’s “A Little Bit Faster and a Little Bit Worse” in the live album department. Unlike the first live album, “Stomp and Smash” is a full-concert document — an “official bootleg,” as Bernhard puts it.
“We definitely made a point of including a lot more crowd noise,” he said. “We wanted to give a feel of what it was like to be at a show.”
The band is hoping to hit the studio again early next year to begin work on its fourth full-length — one of the band’s goals is to have Turino sing more lead vocals along with Bernhard and McBean (she currently adds to the group’s signature three-part harmonies). But with Bernhard and Turino living in New England again, and McBean in Austin, Texas, finding time between tours to record is tough.
“These days, the process of writing is the same, it’s just harder to get us all together and get time when we’re not on the road,” Bernhard said.