Grammy nominee Frank Solivan and his band cook up a new bluegrass standard.
Folks and folkies often consider bluegrass music an Appalachian thing. After all, this uniquely American idiom sprung from Kentucky, the Bluegrass state, and was defined by the late-great Bill Monroe in the late 1950s through the 80s. The music came to the Chesapeake along with Appalachian migrants looking for work in cities like Baltimore. It spread like wildfire and grew Chesapeake roots with front-porch pickers and notable proponents such as the renowned Seldom Scene band. It’s worth noting that the modern banjo was developed here in the late 1800s from the confluence of its African roots and emerging urban ingenuity when Baltimore drum-maker William Boucher imagined the possibilities and began producing the instrument in the form we pick today (Chesapeake Twang, Chesapeake Bay Magazine, December 2018).
Now comes twice-Grammy-nominated and two-time International Bluegrass Association (IBMA) Instrumental Group of the Year (2014, 2016) Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen. Solivan fronts the band and has been nominated for Male Vocalist and Mandolin Player of the Year recognition. Baltimore-based 2013 Banjo Player of the Year Mike Munford, 2013 IBMA Momentum Award-winner Chris Luquette on guitar, and bass-player Jeremy Middleton complete the band. Together in a free-flowing collaboration they are setting the pace for contemporary string-band artists. The 2020 Grammy-nominated album is titled If You Can’t Stand the Heat, naturally, and includes red-hot originals and a remarkable “new-grass” interpretation of the Steely Dan classic “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.”
The Dirty Kitchen name was the result of a passion for hearty food and cooking that Solivan inherited from his mother. “She used to sit me on the counter to watch her cook,” he recalls. “Before long, I was making dinner for the whole family.” In the formative days of the band, they would play private parties and he would cook, leaving the clean-up for later. “We named the band after a cut off of my first CD,” he said. “It connects to all the great times we’ve had over the years cooking and playing together with family and friends—That’s what it’s all about for me.”
Solivan’s chops developed in a house filled with music, His mother sang, and his father played banjo and guitar. By the time he was in high school he was playing local fiddle gigs and lapping up all he could learn in school and college music programs. In the summer of his 19th year, he went to Alaska and toured with professionals. In 2003, he auditioned for the U.S. Navy Country Current band, and soon found himself in boot camp and then assigned to the White House and playing a Telecaster, mandolin, and fiddle in a continuous tour for America around the nation. He was based in the D.C. area and therefore connected with the area’s robust scene of bluegrass players, most notably Baltimore-based Munford, who was breaking new ground and turning heads with his solid technique and dazzling chromatic runs.
At the end of Solivan’s six-year enlistment, he settled into the folds of the Chesapeake music scene and formed Dirty Kitchen to see where that might go. The band quickly drew a following through a steady tour of festivals and gigs around the watershed. Ten years later, they are looking back on seven CDs (four with the band and three solo) and tours across the country, Europe, Australia, Peru, and, of course, the Grammy nominations. They are looking ahead to the next album and a full slate of performances around the country. The band will perform at the 11th annual DelFest in Cumberland, Md. in May.
Meanwhile, Solivan has been endorsed by the Traeger Pellet Grill company as a pitmaster cook, and in early February, he introduced Crave, a dry-rub marinade (available at solfoodsflavors.com) named for one of his compositions, developed especially for seared steaks, perhaps because, when you’re picking and grilling, you can forget about cleaning up the kitchen.