It’s fun when friends come to town. That’s why I couldn’t pass up the chance to see Cane Mill Road when their tour brought them to Lorraine’s Coffee House in Garner, NC.

Lorraine’s Coffee House was founded by Carolina Road’s Lorraine Jordan to be a place to feature locally- and nationally-known musicians in one of the Southeast’s hotbeds for bluegrass music, the Raleigh-Durham metro area. Despite being known for drawing a crowd that is sometimes skeptical of new acts, Cane Mill Road packed the house, leaving standing room only.

Featuring Liam Purcell on vocals, mandolin, and fiddle, Casey Lewis on vocals and guitar, Tray Wellington on banjo, and Eliot Smith on bass, the band has spent the summer on the road playing festivals up and down the East Coast, including multiple sets at MerleFest and Grey Fox. In the middle of a busy tour season, they’ve found the time to release a new record with Patuxent Music, Gap to Gap, featuring 11 original songs.

Cane Mill Road’s set included several original songs from their latest record, with a couple of covers and traditional tunes mixed in. Some of the house favorites included a fast-paced performance of Salt Creek and a cover from their recent project, Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Finding Their Groove

As a young band finding their groove, the conference circuit has done wonders for helping them develop their stage presence and performance style. When I saw them at MerleFest just a few months before, they felt a little closed off – performing great music with excellence, but a bit timid when it came to showing their personality on stage.

Last night’s performance was like watching a different band altogether – more refined, more engaging, and more comfortable on stage.

Last night’s performance was like watching a different band altogether – more refined, more engaging, and more comfortable on stage. They’ve developed some new and unique twists on classic fiddle tunes – dropping in a funky E-minor groove in the middle of a Blackberry Blossom jam, for example – and they’ve added some flourish to the set that wowed the crowd.

The band has also had some high profile teachers and mentors while on the road. Hot Rize’s Pete Wernick has been an ongoing mentor for the group (I had the privilege of spending a week learning mandolin from Cane Mill Road’s 16-year-old front man Liam Purcell at Pete’s MerleFest jam camp). Banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck invested his time in banjo player Tray Wellington after a MerleFest performance, and guitar sensation Billy Strings sat in with the group at this year’s Grey Fox Music Festival.

What’s Next for Cane Mill Road

With all of this in mind, it’s no surprise that the band is a finalist for IBMA’s Momentum Band of the Year Award. Additionally, banjo player Tray Wellington is a finalist for IBMA’s Momentum Instrumentalist of the Year.

IBMA’s Momentum Awards recognize artists and business people in the early years of their bluegrass music careers.

This fall, Cane Mill Road will be playing at IBMA, the Outer Banks Bluegrass Island Music Festival, and a number of smaller shows in the band’s hometowns as the festival season winds down. Find dates and locations on their website.

Bluegrassy editor Rob Laughter was honored to work with Cane Mill Road to produce the photography and artwork for their new record, Gap to Gap. Learn how Bluegrassy supports artists, live music venues, and recording labels with our creative services.