Tony Kamel is best known for his work in the Grammy-nominated, Austin based bluegrass outfit Wood and Wire. The band has had a whirlwind career, and more specifically in the past year, garnering attention for their traditional bluegrass style with a Texas tinge.
Tony will be performing a special solo show at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck on June 11. The native Houstonian is happy to return to his hometown. “I think Houston is a fantastic place. I travel so much and go to so many places and that is what really cemented my love for my hometown of Houston.” says Kamel enthusiastically.
Kamel grew up in Houston and then moved to Austin to study psychology at the University of Texas. There he met his band mates and absorbed all the live music the city has to offer. Growing up he often dug through his parents records, exploring ‘60s and ‘70s rock and then worked his way backward in time, all the way to bluegrass.
Wood and Wire was born in Austin in 2011 and made a name for themselves on the bluegrass circuit. The band's latest release, North of Despair, put them in the running for a Grammy in the best bluegrass album category. They ultimately were beat out by friends and comrades, The Travelin’ McCourys but that didn’t slow them down one bit.
“Frankly I didn’t know how busy we were going to be this year. I thought it might be a slower year but once that happened, people started calling. I’m not going to see my wife for basically the whole second half of the summer, I’m bummed about that, but I’m glad to have the work.” says Kamel. “It’s been really fun and good. We are all in a good place and excited. I think it's finally starting to level up.” he adds.
Kamel may have the voice and finger picking of a seasoned musician but he did not turn to music as a career until later in life. “I'm constantly trying to keep up with my band mates, they are all real studied musicians that have been professional musicians since they were teenagers. They’ve made me push myself further than I ever thought possible.”
The bluegrass scene may bring to mind images of Deliverance or a bunch of gap toothed, barefoot, old white men, picking and grinning around one microphone but nowadays the bluegrass scene is ripe with youth and crossing into more mainstream genres. Bands like Wood and Wire pay homage to those before them but are not purists in their approach to the music. Every summer large bluegrass festivals across the country bring in fans from all over. "It's really surprised me where bluegrass music is popular." says Kamel.
Kamel is part of the movement within the scene, “Recently, there is a contingent of us that have really wanted to reach out to people who otherwise wouldn’t feel welcome; the LGBTQ community, minorities and people who may feel it’s potentially full of conservatives that might not accept them. That’s not true, actually there’s a lot of people that want to expand the music to people of all different races, cultures and creeds.”
“We are starting to see some results of that and starting to see some young people come up from different backgrounds that are really into the music and never thought they would be. It’s been a lot of fun to see and watch it grow.” he adds.
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Anyone who has ever been to a bluegrass festival can tell you how warm and joyful the community is. “It’s a really special community. If you’ve never experienced it, you might think music festival and ACL, Coachella, or Lollapalooza comes to the top of your head but this is something totally different. It’s a really cool community; it’s family friendly, there’s kids running around, people of all ages, teenagers to people in their 70s. It’s really beautiful,” Kamel says.
When asked where he sees the scene currently Kamel says, “Bluegrass is a pretty broad term there’s a lot of bands that sound bluegrassy or have bluegrass instruments but they don’t sound like what you might think a bluegrass band would sound like. I would definitely put us in that category.”
Kamel will be joined on stage by Australian mandolin player and vocalist Kym Warner. Warner was a founding member of the well known bluegrass band, the Greencards and is currently on tour with Robert Earl Keen. Both artists will join forces on the small Mucky Duck stage on a rare night off from touring with their respective bands. “We are just going to jam. I don’t even know if we will make a set list.” laughs Kamel.
Tony Kamel will perform with Kym Warner Tuesday June 11 at McGonigels Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, doors at 7:30 p.m. $22-24