By Nikki Hedrick
Bluegrass has a storied history. The music’s origins reach across the Atlantic. Its roots became prolific in the 1950s, and the Newgrass revival continues to spawn festivals.
Traditional bluegrass has a reputation for taking itself too seriously, and that’s where The Cleverlys come in.
Founder Paul Harris describes the band in a colorful way. “There is a writer from the New York Times that I always quote, ‘cause it’s the best way to describe it. They said, ‘If Dolly Parton, Earl Scruggs, and Spinal Tap spawned a litter of puppies, it would be the Cleverlys.’”
It goes without saying that this is a bluegrass band that breaks a few rules along the way.
Harris found his footing as a comedian—a staple in Branson, Missouri, opening for Jeff Foxworthy—but it’s through The Cleverlys that he’s achieved viral status.
When asked how the concept of melding bluegrass with current popular music came about, Harris replies, “You know, it actually started as a television concept about a faux family band. Are you familiar with Spinal Tap?”
Harris says his first foray into music was a punk band. Somehow it’s a fitting segue to The Cleverlys’ irreverence.
“I wanted to marry my love of music and comedy into one act,” he says. “I always say it’s immaculate conception, ‘cause it just came to me one time—the idea for the Cleverlys faux family band from the Ozarks. To be traditionalists in the bluegrass industry, but they play pop and hip-hop music.”
After a few YouTube videos gained steam, an agent and manager soon followed. That “immaculate conception” has led to eight years of touring, regular gigs, and a whole lot of fun.
Each band member builds his own persona, paying tribute to the ultra-serious performance style that often is connected to the bluegrass genre. “I grew up in the Ozarks,” says Harris, “and so I grew up around a lot of bluegrass performers. And onstage, they were super serious, and I always thought that was really funny. So I took all those stereotypes—it’s kind of every stereotype about bluegrass musicians and rolled them into The Cleverlys.”
Audiences seem to be in on the joke and ready for a good time. “We were worried that in the beginning that people would think that we were making fun of bluegrass, but immediately we were embraced by the bluegrass community,” says Harris.
“And (we’ve) been fortunate to headline some of the biggest festivals in the country over the last four or five years. It’s really caught on. I think people knew that bluegrass really needed something of this nature, just something different. Something with comedy, something with more of a stage show. And we’ve been able to provide that, and I think that people appreciate that.
“For the most part, I’ve got to tell you, we really do get good reviews. It’s heartwarming, ‘cause that’s the genre of music that’s always been near to my heart, so to be embraced by (the bluegrass) community has really been exciting to us.”
The Cleverlys have been through a few lineup changes, something Harris is okay with. But there is always a focus on musicianship, even as the new members develop their on-stage personas.
Although The Cleverlys write original songs, the Internet is littered with the band’s covers of ‘90s hip-hop, ‘80s chart-toppers, and even more recent earworms. Harris says the selection process often has a life of its own with songs that seem to be givens never quite making the cut to live performances.
On July 3, The Cleverlys invade AJ’s in Destin for the Street Party Summer Concert Series on the Jumbotron Stage at 10 PM.
So what can we expect at the show? “It’s just…it’s entertainment,” says Harris. “If you come in with an open mind and are ready to enjoy yourself, it’s something that just about any age demographic can enjoy. We’ve literally played for people from nine to 90.”
The Cleverlys recently signed to Mountain Home Records and plan to release a new album late in the summer. Discover more at TheCleverlys.com.
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