The Backstreet Boys of Bluegrass

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The Coma Induced Stupor of Boy Bands & The Brothers Comatose

On Friday March 31st, local band ‘The Brothers Comatose were headlining the newly opened UC Theatre and the crowd outside was not a bastion of intellectual  UCB discourse – and concerts don’t need to be – but the mood resembled the British raves of the ‘80’s where the music quality was plainly a third consideration behind the party and their friends. The stunning realization was that this all-night  party aesthetic has taken hold in Bluegrass, a genre usually reserved for serious musicians.

The Brothers Comatose either by design or by purely accidental naiveté have created a strange new version of  “bluegrass” that carries an air of pop spectacle from a bygone era of industry-created boy bands. As one veteran recording engineer commented “This band is the love child of the Monkees if they were raised by the people of ‘ Deliverance ‘ – except in the movie, the kid could actually play banjo.” The Brothers Comatose didn’t invent the idea of shoving some instruments into a bunch of good looking guys hands, putting handlebar mustaches on them and hiking their pants up but their whole shtick is as if  the brothers Ben and Alex Morrison, the band founders, watched the Coen Bros “O Brother, Where Art Thou”  movie and just didn’t realize it was a parody.  The question that remains for the listener here is really just how does a band go from covering Huey Lewis and the News,’ “I Want a New Drug.” at open mics to getting booked at the Fillmore  and getting a beer sponsorship under the guise of bandanas, cowboy hats and denim?

The answer lies in a uniquely California combination of slick marketing, capitalizing on the the post Grateful Dead party scene and of course those fine mustaches and flood pants.  The brothers Morrison, who were born in Petaluma and lack any formal musical training, realized they needed some real musicians and placed an ad on the ol’ craig’s list which a few people answered, including Philip Brezina, at the time pursuing a Master’s degree in violin performance at the Conservatory of Music. “When he showed up, I thought, who the hell is this guy?” says Ben. “He’s kind of a redneck but he’s getting his masters in classical violin. Turned out to work pretty well.”

The lackadaisical approach might also be the very reason why there is a prevailing sense in the crowd that it really wouldn’t matter who or what was playing provided that there were copious amounts of booze, weed and other substances that kept the party rolling no matter who was playing violin or what cover was being mangled.  One just has to wonder  how many of these new grass fans would actually pay to see bluegrass legends Doyle Lawson or Diamond Rio if they were swinging through town? Or even recognize real bluegrass music? However, the road to success has not been all one big happy hour round of PBR’s for the band as faced with non-existent album sales, The Morrisons and their managers tied themselves to the road and now play 90-100 shows a year.

The culmination of the Brothers career touring intention was their own personal music festival, Comatopia which took place in the Sierras in August 2016. Recruiting a solid lineup of really good bands, the band was able to say they finally headlined a festival – a major cornerstone of any bands’ career. While the festival sold well, the band’s performance was a disaster that finished with one member throwing up on stage and another falling over in a drunken stupor. This resulted in the band being unable to finish their own set at their own festival. “It was a fun festival, remarked Arnold Danko, production head of the festival, “but the Brothers Comatose performance was the worst headliner set I’ve ever seen on a stage especially when we had to clean up the vomit and equipment for the real bands.” The Festival which was staged at Sierra Valley Lodge, resulted in so many complaints from the county that the lodge lost their music license and so is now shuttered as a result of the Brothers’ Comatopia’s event and behavior ‘The band’s out of control attitude was the major nail in our coffin and ended Sierra Valley Lodge as a beautiful summer venue,” rues Danko as he reflected that it was the only event out of five festivals the Lodge had hosted last summer that resulted in complaints – and their lodge’s closure.

The Brothers Comatose - Photo by Jessie McCall

The Brothers Comatose – Photo by Jessie McCall


The UC Theater concert was emblematic of the band’s desire  for success – a huge beautiful venue, sparsely attended with great music from three other experienced bluegrass acts Goodnight, Texas, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades and the Ghost of Paul Revere. After many hours, The Brothers Comatose as the headliner finally took to the stage amongst slurred whoot’s and inarticulate shouts from the crowd that managed to still be standing after hours of running up their bar tabs. For at least one brief moment the crowd was just like one big happy wasted family- as The Brothers Comatose launched into their Huey Lewis cover  – and this was just the right mood and moment that founding members Ben and Alex Morrison intended.

Additional reporting/interviews by Patrick Knowles.
Correction: Print copies incorrectly attributed the author as Patrick Knowles. 

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4 Comments

  1. I’ve been seeing live music for over 30 years and I like the Brothers Comatose. They bring “fun” with them to the stage. I’m sorry you don’t like them but why do this article? You know, if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say it. Talk up other bands in the Bay area that need exposure.

  2. I attended Comotopia 2016 and don’t recall any bad performances, in fact they were great. They are super nice guys and don’t want to start a fuss. What they lack in musical talent (although not much lacking and they are amazing musicians and songwriters) they make up for in being excellent performers, bringing a great energy to the audience. Why bash them for doing what they love, they’re not trying to cause anything negative, and I don’t think they are. Also, what’s the problem with trying to classify them, do you assume that every five piece string band comes directly or is trying to replicate traditional bluegrass, they’re just playing music. Pick on an artist that is deliberately negative next time…

  3. The band might suck for all I know, but this is a terrible review. I have basically no clue after reading it if the concert BEING REVIEWED was any good.

  4. Josh Windmiller on

    You don’t like the Brothers Comatose, I get it. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and criticism is a valuable tool in any arts scene, but this article is more of a collection of high school gossip than a serious review. I find it hard to take SF Sounds seriously after them publishing this anonymous editorial. Come on, people…

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