I've heard the legend of Mary & Mars. Word on the street is the band is one of the best local bluegrass outfits in town.
This band is one of the best bluegrass outfits I've seen anywhere, period.
Bluegrass is a genre constantly (and unjustly) equated to toothless hillbillies. In this case, the stigma of the overalls-wearin,' jug-blowin' hick is unfounded; Mary & Mars is a polished, contemporary act. While drawing from traditional old-time styles, the band manages to bring the genre into the 21st century with modern influence and well-rounded musicianship.
The band, temporarily back from a five-year hiatus, is made up of three renowned local musicians. Guitarist Ben Wright may be better known as one-third of Santa Fe experimental powerhouse D Numbers. Sharon Gilchrist plays mandolin and bass and, having toured with the likes of Tony Rice and Peter Rowan, should be considered folk and bluegrass royalty. Josh Martin shares mandolin and bass duties, and is an accomplished Americana songwriter.
Five years ago, weeks on the road wore the band thin before an amicable split. "Touring constantly works for some people, but it's just not for me," Martin says. After years apart, the band recently performed at a wedding, and the members' love of playing together was rekindled. The band decided maybe it was time to play a show or two…just for fun.
I arrived at a recent Mary & Mars show to find the Cowgirl patio packed. The band was rocking three-part harmonies and expert musicianship. Wright is truly impressive. We've all seen him play in D Numbers, but watching him play the guitar like this was unreal; I didn't know he could play so fast and intricately. He is clearly a studied musician, not afraid to delve into different genres and styles. "It's actually been hard to play this fast again," Wright says. "I'm hurting!"
Martin is my favorite kind of bass player: While he knows rhythm is his duty, he stays far away from boring root-note bass lines. This guy was all over the map and never missed a beat. When Martin took the lead for vocals, I was reminded of Bob Dylan, but not in a cheesy rip-off way. His influences are clear, but Martin makes them his own.
Gilchrist was recently voted Best Female Vocalist by SFR readers, and it's a shame there wasn't a Best Mandolin Player category. Gilchrist manages to move her fingers at lightning speed, all while harmonizing beautifully. Several songs the band played were identified as Gilchrist originals, with gorgeous, haunting melodies.
Sometimes the stars align just perfectly, and you find yourself on a beautiful patio enjoying a gorgeous night full of good people, excellent music and a cool breeze. If we're really lucky, Martin, Wright and Gilchrist will realize they have a great thing going and now have a responsibility to keep playing together and ruling our faces.
Wright does nothing to cull the suspense: "It's not like the book is closed…"
Mary & Mars
Friday, Aug. 28
$10; free for SW Roots Music members
The Pub & Grill at Santa Fe Brewing Company
37 Fire Place