In the world of bluegrass music, there’s very little that Lou Reid can’t play and very few musicians he hasn’t played with.
Reid is a multi-instrumentalist who is adept at guitar, bass and mandolin. Over the years, he has played these instruments for the likes of Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver.
For most of the past quarter century, he has been playing mandolin and singing with The Seldom Scene, a long-lived bluegrass institution that was responsible for launching the “progressive bluegrass” movement in the early 1970s.
Without sacrificing the music’s traditionalist roots, The Seldom Scene embraced material by a new generation of singer-songwriters, including Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, James Taylor and J.J. Cale. In so doing, they attracted college-age listeners to bluegrass without losing the traditional base of older fans.
The group’s debut album — “Act 1,” released in 1972 — lifted the curtain on progressive bluegrass, and The Seldom Scene further refined the approach on subsequent releases. The band became a favorite on college campuses and at bluegrass festivals and clubs such as the Birchmere in Alexandria, Va.
The Seldom Scene will bring its eclectic repertoire and expert picking to The Liberty Showcase Theater in Liberty on Saturday.
Lou Reid has had two stints in the band. His initial run lasted from 1986 to 1991, and he rejoined after the death of founding member John Duffey in 1996. He has been with The Seldom Scene ever since.
Speaking from his home in Union Grove, Reid recalled first hearing The Seldom Scene as a young, up-and-coming bluegrass picker.
“Well, I grew up as a fan,” said Reid. “At 15 years old, I would listen to their records. I was kind of like an understudy to them without them knowing it. I studied their music, I loved their music. It was powerful.”
The Seldom Scene’s classic original lineup was made up of John Duffey on mandolin, Ben Eldridge on banjo, John Starling on lead vocals and guitar, Tom Gray on bass and Mike Auldridge on Dobro.
In 1978, Starling left the band to focus on a career in medicine and was replaced by singer/guitarist Phil Rosenthal. Lou Reid replaced Rosenthal in 1986.
By then, Reid was a veritable veteran of the bluegrass world. He started out in his early teens playing acoustic bass with the Bluegrass Buddies. They did well in competitions at various fiddlers’ conventions. Reid formed a hot bluegrass group called Southbound, which recorded two albums for Rebel Records.
In 1979, he became a founding member of mandolinist Doyle Lawson’s bluegrass and gospel group, Quicksilver. Then came stints with Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill. But long spells on the road were beginning to wear him down, and with a son on the way, Reid accepted The Seldom Scene’s offer to join in 1986.
From the beginning, The Seldom Scene has taken a more relaxed approach to their career, pursuing it as much for pure musical pleasure and camaraderie as anything. In fact, the group formed as a weekly basement jam session among friends in Bethesda, Md., and when the members began playing shows, they initially limited their public performances to once a week — hence, their punning name, The Seldom Scene.
Reid joined the group in time for the 15th anniversary, celebrated in grand fashion with a star-studded concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington on Nov. 10, 1986. A double-album document of the affair, which included special guests such as Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Ricky Skaggs, was released on Sugar Hill Records.
Time has taken its toll on the original lineup, as founding members John Duffey and Mike Auldridge have both passed. The last original member of the quintet, banjoist Ben Eldridge, retired in 2016, which marked The Seldom Scene’s 45th anniversary.
Although the lineup has gradually changed by attrition, the tradition and intention remain the same. The Seldom Scene currently includes Lou Reid on mandolin, Fred Travers on Dobro, Dudley Connell on guitar and brothers Ronnie and Rickie Simpkins on bass and on banjo and fiddle, respectively.
This edition of The Seldom Scene re-recorded a lot of the band’s most popular songs on “Long Time,” the group’s latest album, released on the Smithsonian/Folkways label in 2014.
When asked how many songs the group has in its repertoire, Reid pauses and chuckles.
“Oh, my gosh, I don’t even want to go into that!” he says. “I’ve never really counted them, but there’s a lot. Hundreds. We try to switch songs out so our sets our kind of new to us, too.”
“Now, people are always going to want to hear ‘Wait a Minute’ and ‘Old Train’ and certain things we’ve done. But if we go to a place we played last year, we’ll try to change it up some so they don’t hear exactly the same thing.”
With the band’s 50th anniversary just four years away, Reid maintains that he’s still having a ball picking and singing with The Seldom Scene.
“We’re still at it, and we’re still having fun,” he says. “We’re not thinking abut giving it up anytime soon.”