The Honey Dewdrops bring their original blend of roots and folk to Wide Open Bluegrass

Thomas Goldsmith—for the North State Journal
The Honey Dewdrops perform in Raleigh during Wide Open Bluegrass

Laura Wortman and Kagey Parrish, the husband/wife singer-songwriter team known as the Honey Dewdrops, make a glorious musical noise based on their strong voices, affecting songs and skills on a batch of acoustic instruments.In an Oct. 1 performance during the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass street festival, the Baltimore-based duo’s full sound and energetic stage presence drew several hundred listeners to a stage on a Raleigh side street. The music ranged from banjo-led old-timey tunes through singer-songwriter lyricism and to instrumental improvisations that would have sounded right at home at a jam-style festival. Both Wortman and Parrish can really play. And they have versatile voices, heard in solos and in close harmonizing that recalls Gram Parson and Emmylou Harris at times and bluegrass greats the Stanley Brothers at others. Parrish plays ear-catching lead guitar and mandolin, while Wortman also solos well on acoustic guitar and clawhammer style banjo. The interplay of instruments and voices had the Raleigh crowd tightly focused on the big musical experience from a small band. In addition, the Honey Dewdrops have had enough show-business experience to roll out the frequent hometown references that people love to hear. “We’ve been here all week, loving your city, and getting a lot of love from your city, too,” Wortman said. Crowd member Stephanie McDaniel traveled from Ferrum, Va., to catch the Honey Dewdrops live after hearing them on local independent radio stations.”I fell in love with the band, but I had never gotten to hear them,” McDaniel said.The Dewdrops’ repertoire includes a number of strong original tunes that place millennial life and love themes in old-timey settings. It’s a nice contrast that works when they sing of being “broke down in a sad town.”Intersperse their own songs, are diverse covers such Tom Paxton’s folk standard “The Last Thing on My Mind,” the Beatles’ “Across the Universe” and the Stanleys’ “Who Will Sing for Me?” The last-named tune came as a tribute to bluegrass patriarch Ralph Stanley, who died in June. Originally from Virginia, Wortman and Parrish have crafted a style that digs deep into traditional sounds, but also fits into a contemporary landscape that embraces Del McCoury, the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Sarah Jarosz. And when Wortman ripped into an extended banjo solo on the closing number “Same Old,” she conjured up sounds that recalled everything from spiraling electric guitar to the banjo’s African predecessor, the akonting.”I’m just trying to do my own thing,” she said backstage after the show.The Dewdrops have been doing their collective thing since 2008, when they chalked up an unexpected win in the “Prairie Home Companion” in a “people under 20” talent contest. In the increasingly diverse IBMA lineup, they represented an accessible group of performers who use the techniques and approach of American roots music to reach contemporary audiences. Perhaps inevitably, they have drawn frequent comparisons to Americana’s best-known spousal team, David Rawlings and Gillian Welch, but the Dewdrops’ mix of cheerful stage demeanor and brokenhearted tunes set them apart as an accomplished act to watch and follow.Check them out at: