Bluegrass credentials are a big deal in the scene, apparently, at least according to Pete Bernhard, guitarist for The Devil Makes Three.
Bernhard remembers starting out in Santa Cruz when local bluegrass fundamentalists complained the band’s sound wasn’t bluegrass enough. At the time, the band’s sound leaned more towards folk and punk rock, so their response was simple: “We’re not.”
“People were trying to put us in a box then and it didn’t work,” he said. “We didn’t really satisfy the bluegrass community or the folk community, we were just doing whatever we wanted.”
And after 15 years on the road, releasing five studio albums along the way, The Devil Makes Three continue to do just that. Today, the trio stands out as the Bay’s most popular Americana band in a region devoid of Americana music, with a global fan base almost as loyal as its’ fans back home in the Bay Area.
From the depths of the punk scene in Santa Cruz to playing shows in Prague, the Devil Makes Three sprang from humble roots around 2001 with Bernhard singing and strumming the guitar, Lucia Turnio handling the stand-up bass, and Cooper McBean picking through an impressive stringed arsenal, including the fiddle, banjo, and baritone guitar. The end result may be folk, blues, punk, or bluegrass, honestly who knows, or cares – the Bay loves it.
And in appreciation of that love, the band always makes sure to return to the Bay for a hometown swing, especially to Santa Cruz where the band’s most hardcore fans live. So, when they skipped Santa Cruz last year, the band knew it would be hard to show their faces close by without playing the Catalyst, Santa Cruz’s largest music venue. “We owed Santa Cruz a play,” Bernhard told SF Weekly.
This week, the trio kick off their Northern California tour back home in the Bay Area with two sold out shows in three days. The first show was in Petaluma on Thursday. Tonight, it’s back in Santa Cruz to play the Catalyst, which sold out in a matter of days. After the Bay, it’s off to Tahoe to headline the WinderWonderGrass California Music and Brew Festival tomorrow. Then it’s off to the East Coast for the rest of the tour.
The band has come a long way since 2002, when they first caught fire in Santa Cruz after releasing their self-titled debut independently. The band would go on to open for Social Distortion for its first show at the Fox Theater in Oakland. Also, the band used to be a four-piece with a drummer. So, all these things add up a simple, yet unanswerable question: Is The Devil Makes Three a bluegrass band? I don’t know who would be the authority on that, at least with Trampled by Turtles or the Yonder Mountain String Band, there’s a constant “sound” there, something that lets you know it’s a bluegrass band.
“Some bands put out albums and are like, this is what we do and this is all we do, and people love them for it,” he said.
Bernhard says that although many bands strive for that, The Devil Makes Three keeps wanting to push the envelope, moving forward.
“I don’t think anybody in the band really has the desire to put out the same album over and over again,” he said.
The Devil Makes Three is not that band. Every album has a unique vibe with a unique arrangement of instruments, and this goes for a new album the band is recording right now set to be released in Fall 2018. Bernhard says there will be less fiddle and more baritone guitar on the band’s sixth album, a testament to the band’s constant quest for something new and unique.
2018 Winter Wonder Grass Tahoe Music & Brew Festival, April 6-8, 1:45 p.m.-10 p.m., Squaw Valley Resort, 400 Squaw Creek Rd., Olympic Valley, $79-$109; winterwondergrasstahoe.com. Tickets Here