Twisted strings: Gowanus fest celebrates genre-bending banjo music

Genre-benders: Brooklyn’s Gangstagrass mixes traditional bluegrass music with hip-hop beats and rhymes. It sounds weird, but the two genres share more common ground than you might think.

Turn out, tune up, and drop the beat.

A two-day music festival called “Psychedelix Americana” will celebrate the best progressive and genre-bending bluegrass in Brooklyn on April 11 and 12 at the Bell House in Gowanus.

But don’t go digging for that tie-dye t-shirt just yet, the organizer said.

“To me ‘psychedelic’ just means building something new and experimenting, and you have a lot of bands on the bill that are doing that,” said Alex Borsody, who also plays the banjo.

Indeed, there are plenty of bands pushing the boundaries in what is typically a tradition-heavy genre. Brooklyn’s Gangstagrass is cutting new paths through bluegrass territory, combining old-time fiddles and banjos with hip-hop beats and lyrics.

It seems contradictory, but the genres have more common ground than most realize, said the band’s founder, who goes by the name Rench. Bluegrass and hip-hop both put a premium on improvisation, he said, and that allows for an on-stage chemistry that spans the divide between urban lyricists and rural pluckers.

“Once we saw there was that common approach, we realized we could kind of let loose on stage,” he said.

Rench said the band’s brand of genre-blending could only come from the borough that is home to both hip-hop legends and young gents sporting curly mustaches and suspenders.

“It’s an only-in-Brooklyn thing,” he said.

Another progressive group on the bill is all-girl band Your Ex-Girlfriends, which puts a rock ‘n’ roll spin on country music classics.

These gals also push audience gender expectations, taking cowboy songs and cranking them to 11.

The group’s founder said Your Ex-Girlfriends doesn’t just cover jukebox staples — it also puts its spin on local artists such as Jeff Duarte and Alex Battles.

The festival lineup, curated by New York music magazines Deli and Relix, also includes hillbilly swing maestro Seth Kessel, borough bluegrassers the Union Street Preservation Society, and psychgrass pioneers New Riders of the Purple Sage.

There will also be a banjo workshop at 6:30 pm on Friday, Borsody said, where experts will teach speed-pickers the hyper-fast “Scruggs style” and demystify the skin-slapping clawhammer technique — BYOB(anjo).

A portion of the festival’s revenue will go to the Tony Rice Foundation, which helps the eponymous roots musician pay his mounting medical bills, Borsody explained.

“No bluegrass star is super wealthy,” he said.

“Psychadelix Americana” at the Bell House [149 Seventh St. between Second and Third streets in Gowanus, (718) 643–6510, www.psychedelixamericana.com]. April 11 at 6:30 pm, $14–$16; April 12 at 6:30 pm, $25–$28; $35 for two-day pass.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.

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