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Flatpickin’ in Paradise

Banjos and beaches, mandolins and margaritas, fiddles and fish fries: some unlikely pairings in a paradise that is more Jimmy Buffet than Bill Monroe. But Mountain Song at Sea’s maiden cruise in February left the typically landlocked bluegrass stomping grounds far behind to bring together acts from across the nation like the Grammy-winning Steep Canyon Rangers and local favorites Betty and the Boy, who will be reunited again April 7 at WOW Hall.

“Are people going to come to this?” Rangers’ mandolin player Mike Guggino remembers asking himself before setting sail. It was a risk that paid off. The highlight for Guggino? A spontaneous jam one evening at sea with bluegrass giants Del McCourry, Chris Thile, Peter Rowan, David Grisman, Tim O’Brien and Guggino himself (look for it on YouTube, it’s worth it).

Post-cruise, the Rangers aren’t cruising even with their recent 2012 Best Bluegrass Album Grammy for Nobody Knows You, having wrapped up recording their 9th studio album at Levon Helm Studios a couple weeks ago; the record will be released in late summer. “There’s some different sounds on this record,” Guggino says. “We use drums on quite a few tracks. It’s a little less traditional in some people’s eyes.” 

Betty and the Boy’s Josh Harvey is still basking in the post-Caribbean glow. “It was unbelievable to see all those 8,000 banjos going through customs,” he says, laughing. “Surrounded by so many awesome musicians, it was surreal being on a boat in the Bahamas.” Harvey says it was primetime for bluegrass networking, meeting bands like Front Country, the Henhouse Prowlers and Steep Canyon Rangers lead singer Woody Platt.

Steep Canyon Rangers and Betty and the Boy play 8 pm Sunday, April 7, at WOW Hall; $15 adv., $20 door. — Alex Notman