Bluegrass gets dark with Grandpa’s Cough Medicine |

Bluegrass gets dark with Grandpa’s Cough Medicine

Nicole Inglis

Grandpa's Cough Medicine, an outlaw bluegrass band from Jacksonville, Fla., performs in Steamboat Springs for the first time Friday with a free show at Old Town Pub.

— In the lowlands of northeastern Florida, there's no picturesque mountain scenery or country love stories.

It's alligators, lakes and rock 'n' roll.

So Grandpa's Cough Medicine, an acoustic bluegrass trio out of Jacksonville, Fla., by default comes with a sound far different from myriad Colorado bluegrass bands.

They reach deep into the traditional roots of bluegrass and outlaw country, taking a darker, harder edge to precise picking.

And their show is on the road in Colorado for the first time this week.

Guitarist and vocalist Brett Bass, along with upright bassist Jon Murphy (a former electric bassist) and banjo player Mike Coker (the only member with a bluegrass background) will perform Friday at Old Town Pub. The free show begins at 10 p.m.

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"We basically take the elements of bluegrass we like the most: the hard-driving tempos and the fast picking and the harmonies," Bass said.

But the songwriting is where the band members’ practice of the traditional American genre diverges from the norm.

"Outlaw bluegrass," as the band calls its style, means songs about crooked cops, jealous lovers, heists and other sinful subjects.

“It’s all pretty dark stuff,” he said.

"Maybe that is my metal upbringing. I find songs like that more interesting to listen to. I hear so many love songs on the radio, and I just want to turn it off. It's so boring."

Take the title track to the band’s forthcoming third album, "The Murder Chord."

It's an ironic tune about a kid who goes on a violent rampage after listening to heavy metal music — commentary on a tired cliche that metal music could drive someone to commit violent acts.

But for Bass, metal's influence on him merely led to uniquely scruffy bluegrass vocals and a penchant for blistering flat-picked guitar solos.

"I grew up playing heavy metal on electric guitar and stuff," Bass said. "At some point, I got bit by the acoustic bug, and I started playing chords and singing Johnny Cash. My love for the fast playing in metal, I found it in bluegrass."

The band has recorded three albums but hasn't toured much outside the Jacksonville area until this year. This week, with shows in Denver, Winter Park and Avon, marks the group’s first trip to the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

"It's been really cool to us, and I'm a fan of y'all’s legalization laws," Bass said. "We drove up to the mountains to Winter Park, and that was incredible. The scenery just blew my mind; I've never seen anything like it before."

The snow is one thing, but it's also a different musical landscape from Florida, where Grandpa's Cough Medicine is one of just a few bluegrass acts.

"It's fun. We're getting in front of new people and people who haven't heard our songs before," he said. "You get to see the look of surprise of their face when you drop some unexpected lyrics on them."

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email

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