Harmonic Resonance. It’s when tones come together to produce a vibration with sustain. A good vibration. I once attended a finger-style guitar workshop for beginners, hosted by National Finger-style Guitar Champ Pat Kirkley. Pat began by talking about tuning. He said, “You know you’re in tune when you strum a chord and the guitar begins to resonate.” It makes this pleasant vibration, at least the acoustic guitar does. Harmonics, in general, resonate from one ear canal to the other, creating this cool little vibe in the middle. It’s either on or it’s off. The Flatland Harmony Experiment, three guys from the Indianapolis area who met at a jam in 2011, harmonized, resonated, and the resonance is still ringing, reverberating, in the ear canals and frontal lobes of a whole bunch of acoustic Roots music lovers around the globe. Flatland Harmony Experiment is on. Riding the tide of momentum from being selected a finalist in the 2013 40th Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival Band Competition, The Flatland Harmony Experiment is truly fresh out of the gate, up and coming, not too far from actually jumping to the next level, overnight, so to speak. They play over a hundred dates a year and have enjoyed over a thousand downloads from radio programmers around the world. The band has released three recordings, with their latest recording “The Great Squirrel Stampede”. That’s a cd per each year of FHE’s inception.
FHE started at a bluegrass jam on the patio of the Mousetrap, one of Indianapolis, Indiana’s oldest north side watering holes. Band spokesman, Scott Nelson, who writes and sings and plays bass, says, “What started as a jam quickly evolved into a band when members Kris Potts, Johnny Plott and me got together and recorded a rehearsal. Three part harmony immediately filled the room and an idea was hatched. The resulting recording was scribed in Sharpie, ‘the Flatland Harmony Experiment’ and a band was born.” Just like that. Well, I believe now and then the mother ship stops by and drops off these incredibly talented seeds and they pop up everywhere, hook up and multiply. Sometimes they come up in the same area and a great band is born.
I first heard FHE, which is Scott Nelson on bass, Johnny Plott on banjo and Kris Potts on mandolin, (notice, no guitar? more about that later…), at the 2nd John Hartford Memorial Festival, in Bean Blossom, Indiana. Dubbed the “Most Laid Back Festival in America”, truly, in it’s youth, a musician’s festival, having played host to the likes of Tim O’Brien and Darrel Scott, Jamie Hartford, Great American Taxi, Peter Rowan, so many great musicians, well, I’ll just say, FHE fit right in and have been invited back each year, and with each performance, they present something unique and original.
You see, some of these folks dropped off here by the Mother Ship are masters of their craft and that’s it. There are a whole bunch of folks like this. One only needs to attend the Walnut Valley Festival, Winfield KS, home of eight national and international instrument titles, to witness first hand, these other worldly kids pick flawlessly at the speed of light. The world is now full of great pickers. I’ve walked right by quite a few of them without giving them a second thought. But when I heard the vocals of FHE, above the music, I got that gut feeling that says, “listen to this”. Sibling like vocal harmony coming from these three men. It’s no wonder their popularity is rising faster than a Martha White biscuit in the oven. FHE offers something unique with their blend of original bluegrass inflected songs and traditional covers. Each of these men are self taught. They say they are a “non-traditional, vocally driven string band”. I say that’s right. But I also say they are very Newgrass. Scott Nelson is a steady man on bass, even while he sings. That’s a tough gig. Johnny Plott who sings tenor most of the time, does it while picking his own style of bluegrass banjo. Even tougher gig. Then, there’s Kris Potts, who does Django Mando, unlike anyone I’ve heard, and sings. They pull off the tightest jams, in intricacy, song after song after song, and they have the gift of pulling you into their realm. They are unassuming, unpretentious, putting on a show without putting on a show.
Harmonic Resonance. Flatland Harmony Experiment. Nothing flat here. Harmony? Dynamic and spiritual. Experiment? I think the experiment has been conducted and they’ve moved on to spreading the results all over the country and Europe is on the horizon. I asked Kris Potts how he labels their music. He told me, with a twang, “I call it Pro-grass.(praw-grass)”. It is, too. Pick any of their three albums, you’ll hear Scott’s soft voice with Johnny and Kris harmonizing the effects in the background, usually followed by an instrumental that will temporarily make you forget the vocals, then the vocals are back. All of this around one mic, a Groove Tubes large diaphragm tube condenser mic, with none of the instruments plugging in. Their sound is consistent, a result of constant work and dedication and a real love for what they do. Flatland Harmony Experiment is here to stay. They’re embarking this spring on an odyssey that will take them from Michigan to North Carolina to Wisconsin and wind up in Colorado, in support of their new album, The Great Squirrel Stampede. I googled that, by the way. The song was written about an incident in 1822’s Indiana when an area was literally overran by millions of squirrels.
You can get all of the details of FHE’s tour and discography at www.flatlandharmony.com When I asked Scott what excites FHE about a performance, he told me this. “We always rise to the occasion when we can create a conversation with the audience. For example recently at a gig we received multiple suggestions for our original songs and the audience sang our songs and lyrics with us. I can’t tell you what an honor that is for us. To see and hear our art reflected back to us is awe inspiring. I believe that there is an energy loop that can be created where we are mirrors of each other. If the audience is in, we will put on the show of our lives.” I’ve seen them do this. About the genre, Scott told me all three band members were “city boys”, and Bill Monroe would probably not approve of their “non-traditional vocally drivin string band music”. Just based on Kris Potts mando alone, Bill would definitely approve. Overall, I prefer to believe Bill Monroe would not only approve, he’d smile to see the results of this “experiment”!
Catch Flatland Harmony Experiment live, if you can. Ernie Hill .