Last updated on May 26th, 2023 at 12:46 pm
In the respective histories of bluegrass and Americana music, few figures are as widely influential as Peter Rowan. From his early days in Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys and Earth Opera to his significant work with Old & In the Way and varied solo work, Rowan has a long resume in roots music that rivals anyone. Recently at the Dakota, Rowan played through favorites old and new and demonstrated to the captive audience why he is such a pivotal figure in these genres.
Among the many early highlights of the show were “Lonesome L.A. Cowboy” and “Panama Red.” Like many Rowan songs, they have been covered widely, becoming staples in the bluegrass world.
Rowan and his band also played several bluegrass standards, including multiple Bill Monroe numbers (even “Uncle Pen”). Monroe’s presence loomed large over the set, not only in the song selections and style but also in some of the stories that dated back to Rowan’s days playing in Monroe’s band. For fans of the genre, it doesn’t get cooler than that.
While many of the songs played and the band’s instrumentation leaned towards traditional bluegrass style, it would not be a Peter Rowan show if he didn’t deviate a bit. Rowan has shifted and experimented stylistically throughout his career, sometimes even on an album-to-album basis. This musical eclecticism is a defining component of his artistry.
At the Dakota, Rowan and his bluegrass band showcased influences from Woody Guthrie and Doc Watson to Harry Belafonte. “I heard Harry Belafonte before I heard Bill Monroe,” Rowan quipped. The band even included a few gospel numbers for good measure.
The musical versatility was a sight to behold, and Rowan’s voice and presence continuously shined through. He’s one of the all-time greats and was nothing short of extraordinary on this night.