Anyone reading this probably knows that Honeywagon is all about covering some stuff that, for the bluegrass world, is pretty far out. We’re proud of our covers of Green Day, Blink 182, Michael Jackson, Rolling Stones, and even Lady Gaga. But yesterday I heard a story about a Chicago bluegrass band, The Henhouse Prowlers that raises the bar to a new, global height. Here’s the story in a nutshell. The Henhouse Prowlers got invited to participate in some sort of cultural exchange between Nigeria and the United States which involved them going to Africa to play bluegrass. They decided it would be cool to play some music that the Nigerians could relate to and they found a tune by P-Square that was topping the charts. That tune was called “Chop My Money”. They played the song a few times for the local crowd in Chicago and got a decent response. Then they went to Nigeria. When they played their bluegrass cover of this song over there the crowds went ballistic for it! There is even a video on YouTube of them performing at the US Embassy in Abuja where they are joined by one of the members of P-Square to sing this tune! (Here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aumwrTGlNvE).
For budding bluegrass players out there who want to play some covers but don’t know what to pick the lesson here is pretty clear: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. Honeywagon wouldn’t have gotten too far with bluegrass covers of Green Day, and Blink 182 if we had been aiming to tour retirement homes. If we were doing a tour of assisted living communities bluegrass covers of Lawrence Welk would have served much better. (This is, of course, purely hypothetical – we never did the assisted living tour!).
When Honeywagon looks for songs to turn into bluegrass covers we try to find artists with a very strong national presence and preferably an international presence. Our album “Songs From Neverland – a bluegrass tribute to Michael Jackson” is probably the best example of this. That album has sold almost as many copies in Europe and Australia as it has in the US! Once we pick a strong artist to focus on we listen to everything that artist has put out and just kind of carve the selection down according to what grabs us. There are certain artists that are known for particular songs that will be unavoidable (we never would have done a bluegrass cover album of Lady Gaga without doing “Poker Face” for example).
Sometimes, however, the thought process just goes out the window. If you find an unknown song that just really resonates with you, by all means, bust out the banjo and turn that puppy into a wonderful bluegrass cover!