When: Fri., Aug. 11, 6-8 p.m. 2017
electric guitar to his House of God church and swapped them with the church's traditional organ. Since then, "sacred steel," as it's called, has become its own gospel niche. The music has hopped the fence into the secular world, too, popularized by disciples including the Campbell Brothers and Robert Randolph.
Mount Airy sacred steel quartet The Allen Boys bears witness to its faith in secular venues, but the presentation has a unique twist: bluegrass flavor seeps into some of the music. Pedal steel player Dashawn Hickman grew up a fan of bluegrass, playing dobro in a bluegrass band and never losing his love for the genre. The band covers songs like "Rocky Top" straight-up, but gives some hymns a bluegrass makeover, too.
"We turn some of the old traditional Southern gospel songs, 'I'll Fly Away,' 'When the Saints Go Marching In,' into a bluegrass type feel," Hickman says.
The real mind-benders are the Michael Jackson covers, "Thriller" and "Black or White." But don't look for the band to don zombie makeup or prance around surrounded by dancers.
"Its nothing choreographed," Hickman says. "There's not a whole lot of jumpin' around, but we have fun with it."
And The Allen Boys throw yet another curveball with songs like Tom Petty's "Mary Jane's Last Dance." Hickman explains that Petty was also an important part of his youth. He and his cousins—who are also his bandmates—all attended high school together and played football.
"Our coach was a Tom Petty fan, so every Friday night, during warm-ups, all we would hear was Tom Petty. I never knew nothing about the man, just knew he has some great-sounding music," he says.
When it comes to performing, Hickman says the band has a "blanket trust" with the church and chooses secular venues carefully.
"You can't limit yourself to who you go to. Everybody might not be able to come to you, to the church. Take the church to them, just be true to who you are," he says, adding, "Have fun in the process, but stay true to the message." —Grant Britt