By DJ Dave Hoffenberg
If you’re into bluegrass, check out Fiddlewitch. Even if you’re not, check them out anyway – they play good music. I had the pleasure of speaking to David Hughes (age 57) who started the group two years ago with his step-daughter Meghann Patten (age 23). Hughes plays acoustic bass/guitar; she plays fiddle; and they both sing. They host open mic every Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Liquid Art. Hughes hosts the bluegrass jam Tuesdays at 7 p.m. at Taps Tavern, and the full band plays Taps the first Friday of every month. The band includes Laird Christensen on mandolin, and the guitar rotates between Mark Edwards and Andrew Poirier. If you’re going to open mic or the jam, know that it’s BYOI (bring your own instrument). Hughes also plays in the class rock/country band Whisper with Seth LaFountain on guitar and Allan Hall on drums.
Liquid Art is a new venue for them this season. Patten met Chef Dan Oakes while working her lift operator job. Hughes said, “It’s a nice mix of local folks and people who are staying on the mountain. Every week we see somebody new or somebody who doesn’t do open mics that much, or at all. It’s a really cool place with the artwork, plus Dan is a good cook, so I always have good food while I’m there.”
Hughes has been hosting the jam for the past year. He said, “It’s become a pretty popular thing. People like to come out and listen and they like to come out and play. It’s mostly bluegrass, but everyone knows a little country and a little rock, so it’s always a good mix of stuff.” Some nights there are five guitar players and sometimes it’s fiddles and mandolins. Hughes said you never know who’s going to turn up. It’s a good night to try stuff out.
Hughes described Fiddlewitch and said, “It’s an eclectic mix of progressive bluegrass with some traditional stuff. We do Chris Stapleton, Steel Drivers, The Devil Makes Three and Trampled by Turtles – stuff like that, which is fairly new. We also do Bill Monroe and the Carter Family. Meghann has a fair number of original songs, so there’s a little bit of a mix of the kind of stuff we like and are influenced by, but also the things that Meghann is working on because she’s a pretty good songwriter. It’s a little dark, but a lot of country and bluegrass is sad stuff anyways. Drinking songs and miners dying, things like that.”
They started Fiddlewitch when Patten came back from Chicago where she was living and doing a little theater. She attended college in northern Illinois. Hughes said, “I took her to bluegrass night and she really took a liking to it. In the past two years, we’ve been adding to the catalog and playing with a lot of musicians. She’s one of those kinds of people who has a unique skill set. She’s a great vocalist who can sing well and has an interesting voice. She doesn’t always sing like everyone else does, but for people who sing harmony, it’s really easy to sing harmony with her, or it’s really interesting for her to sing harmony with me. It’s a good combination like that.”
Hughes said the most interesting thing about Patten is that her fiddle playing is all self-taught. He said, “She has a very interesting style. She’s only been playing for two years. We play with other fiddle players who are more classically trained, but she always fits in and finds something that works really well with the tunes that we’re playing. She will hate me for saying this, but she has that natural ability to pick up those kinds of stringed instruments and play.” Fiddle is first, but she also plays guitar and banjo. Hughes added, “She’s always working on something.”
Hughes has been playing for about 30 years. He started part-time on weekends while working in printing, and now it’s all that he does. He’s played in all kinds of bands like rock ‘n’ roll, country and R&B. He stumbled on bluegrass by going to Taps on a Tuesday night. Like his daughter, he took a liking to it then, as well. He said, “The nice thing about bluegrass is it’s mostly acoustic instruments and you don’t need a whole lot of electronic equipment. You can set up in small spaces and not have to charge an arm and a leg. You can have some fun and still make a little money.”
Hughes comes from a musical family – his father and his son both play drums. Hughes got the real itch after discovering The Beatles. He said, “I wanted to be able to do that.” He bought his first bass for $100 at Montgomery Ward and he’s never been out of work musically since then. “You just have to find your niche, I guess.”
Hughes likes when the band “gets in the pocket.” He described that: “Whether it’s just Meghann and I or a whole group of people, it’s getting into a song and everyone just falls into place like they’re supposed to be; when the arrangement and flow goes well. That, to me, is what it’s all about – when it all sounds good. When you finish the song, you know it’s good because people react the way that you hope they will – they like it.”
Photo courtesy Dave Hoffenberg
Meghann Patten and David Hughes of Fiddlewitch