May 28, 2003 News & Features » Cover Story


Pop sound: newgrass 

Special Ed and the Shortbus

But seriously: They love bands with a sense of humor like Frank Zappa’s Mother’s of Invention, Parliament and Ween, but they’re equally turned on by traditional bluegrass like Doc Watson, Bill Monroe and 1920s jug-band music. Turner says they like the idea of playing old standards, but it’s hard to ignore all the music that’s happened since bluegrass.

You dig?: Every Wednesday night at Cary Street Café a nearly full house of rowdy hippie types kick up their heels to the hoedown sounds of Special Ed. Overalls, Birkenstocks, concert T-shirts, beards, hemp necklaces and dreadlocks are the norm. The band’s casual stage banter provides comic relief in between old bluegrass standards, their original humorous, wacky-newgrass tunes and unlikely covers like “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden and Beck’s “Lord Only Knows.” The septet also is known to switch instruments on occasion. While Plotnik puts down his guitar to play his armpit, bass player Turner picks up a dildo-ornamented funnel, adding hornlike sounds to different songs. He also writes fake “historical” letters that he claims to find in his old Fan apartment that are read out loud while the band plays old Civil War tunes.

The future of poograss: While some of the members still go to VCU, they’re taking it slow because, as Turner puts it, “academics is not the strong suit of the Shortbus.” They’re putting together their first album in banjo player Walthall’s home studio but don’t know when it will be done. “We’re a petty, small, small band,” Belcher says. “We’re not going anywhere, I don’t even know what I’m doing tomorrow.”

Riding the short bus: “I think we probably all rode the short bus at one time or another,” says Turner. “We’re all special in our own little way.”

Got any more grass, man?: Old School Freight Train, The Mules.

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