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Into the woods: Redwood Grove Summer Concerts couple poetry and bluegrass

An hour’s drive and world away from Stanford’s campus, UC Berkeley’s Botanical Garden is home to the weekly Redwood Grove Summer Concerts. Last Wednesday, local poets and musicians gathered at the garden’s amphitheater for the festival’s “Bards and Bluegrass” performance.
I arrived at the concert a couple minutes late. The trail into the woods was soft with leaves and needles. I imagined, for an instant, getting lost in the deep, cool shadow of the redwoods—but then, at a fork in the road, a mandolin sounded. I followed.
Jeff Ward has been playing the mandolin for the Whiskey Brothers for over fifteen years. The Brothers take pride in playing a diverse range of music, from traditional bluegrass to Romanian folk, to Western Swing, to Tex-Mex. Their songs will make you tap your foot or bob your head, but what’s most palpable—most moving—
is the delight these men take in their own voices. Their grins and dimples and happily superfluous jokes are contagious.
The group’s aesthetic is, go figure, alcohol-centric, so Jeff introduced the evening’s “Bards and Bluegrass” program in appropriate terms: “It’s like bourbon and pickle brine,” he said, “each one makes you want more of the other.” This analogy proved pitch-perfect. The Whiskey Brothers gave up the stage to an splendid-if-unlikely complement, a group of Bay Area-based poets.