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Chatham County's The Bluegrass Experience breaks a remarkably long recording silence with Experience This!, a product inspired by the group's 30th anniversary last year. During the 1970s, The Bluegrass Experience "owned" Thursday nights at the Cat's Cradle back at its original Chapel Hill location, now home to the Skylight Exchange. By casting who knows how many impressionable college students under the spell of bluegrass music then and there, the band exerted an influence that reached far beyond many more famous bluegrass ensembles. While original banjo player Don Beane and his brother Paul (on mandolin) passed away during the past decade, stalwarts Tommy Edwards (guitar) and bassman Snuffy Smith have carried on, bringing in fiddler Keith Thomas and former Blue Grass Boy Stan Brown on banjo, besides using various mandolinists (including The Shady Grove Band's Charles Pettee).Experience This! recreates much of the Bluegrass Experience sound that we loved back then: meat and potatoes bluegrass with a number of twists. The Experience still mixes the occasional traditional bluegrass song or tune with their bluegrass versions of country, '50s pop and Southern rock songs. (They even include the Allman Brothers' "Rambling Man," a staple of those packed, beer soaked Thursday nights decades ago.) These days, The Bluegrass Experience is offering more of Edwards' original songs: He penned six of the disc's 13 titles. The prevalence of these original compositions, however, makes the record seem more serious than the Experience of old. But "newcomers" Brown and Thomas sustain the band's tradition of instrumental excellence.

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