Dudley Connell is the lead guitarist and vocalist for the Grammy-nominated bluegrass group The Seldom Scene. The band, which plays York's Capitol Theatre Saturday, has performed at countless festivals and has taken the stage at White House events.
But Connell still keeps a day job - digitizing live recordings for the Library of Congress. The efforts are headed by the National Council for the Traditional Arts. About a dozen years ago, the library became interested in preserving the NCTA's collection of live grassroots music, including Cajun, folk and bluegrass tunes.
Before a recent interview, Connell was working to convert a Steve Riley recording to a digital format.
"It's a fun gig, and I think it's important ... to preserve," Connell said. Chances are that the music would otherwise be lost, he added.
Connell, a Maryland native who has been playing bluegrass for decades, hopes to keep the traditional music alive. The genre, which was first coined in the '40s, has experienced cycles of popularity.
The Seldom Scene formed in the '70s - during the days of outdoor rock and folk fests. Connell got his start in 1980 with Maryland's Johnson Mountain Boys. He said bluegrass got a boost from jam bands in the '90s and is experiencing another revival thanks to bands including The Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons.
"They energize the music," Connell said. And even though some sticklers say those groups are purely pop, Connell welcomes the added interest they bring to the bluegrass genre.
"I don't listen to a lot of bluegrass since I'm around it so much," he admitted. But he cited Ralph Stanley, The Country Gentlemen and York County's Del McCoury as influences.
It sometimes baffles Connell how The Seldom Scene seems to expand its reach as it ages. The group has had several lineups. Connell joined about 18 years ago. He knew former bandleader John Duffey for years.
When Connell got word that The Seldom Scene was disbanding in 1995, he called Duffey to express his condolences. Duffey suggested they get together and play. After an impromptu basement jam, a new incarnation of The Seldom Scene took shape.
Connell said his first official performance with the group was a 1996 concert featuring J.D. Crowe at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center.
"I hold a soft spot in my heart (for York)" Connell said.
But the band is more familiar with the Gettysburg area, where it has a standing gig at the area's biannual bluegrass festival. When he first started performing, Connell said he was surprised to find that Appalachian music was so popular in Southern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
"If you think about it, they are pretty rural (with) farms and coal mines and blue collar working folks," he said. "It hit some kind of chord."
Through the years, Connell discovered the best part of the job: visiting old friends and making new ones on tour. When he decided to get out of the business in 1988, he missed the camaraderie with other musicians and friends.
"It's hard to turn your back on," said Connell, who plans to be with The Seldom Scene for years. "I can't imagine doing it again."
In addition to a full schedule of shows through December, the band recently booked three days in the studio this spring. Connell said he's not sure what the agenda will be, but a new album might be in the works.
"When a group (has) full-time day jobs and family commitments, our lives get reprioritized," he said. "Striking a balance is very, very important."
- ERIN McCRACKEN,
If you go
Hear the bluegrass sounds of The Seldom Scene 8 p.m. Saturday at the Capitol Theatre, 50 N. George St., York. York County group HogMaw will open the Cap-Live show. Tickets cost $23. For details and tickets, call 717-846-1111 or visit mystrandcapitol.org.
The Seldom Scene is hosting a free workshop 4:30 p.m. at the Capitol. Visitors will get a behind-the-scenes look at the music industry. The workshop is supported by Mid-Atlantic Arts and will last 45 minutes.
The Seldom Scene: www.seldomscene.com
Read more meet-the-artist interviews: flipsidepa.com/musicdirectory
National Council for the Traditional Arts: www.ncta.net
Ben Eldridge (founding member) - banjo
Dudley Connell - guitar and vocals
Fred Travers - dobro and vocals
Ronnie Simpkins - bass
Lou Reid - mandolin