New Dangerfield is a young, Black string band that formed to play at the 2023 IBMA Bluegrass Live festival in Raleigh, NC. The band features banjoist Tray Wellington, Nelson Williams on bass, fiddler Jake Blount and songwriter Kaia Kater on guitar and banjo.
After a handful of rehearsals New Dangerfield played out for the first time on Saturday September 30, 2023. “This is our first show ever together (and) the second day all of us being in the same place,” laughed Kaia Kater during their debut. “We are really thrilled.”
The band’s inaugural set included old time fiddle tunes, Alberta Hunter’s song “You Can’t Tell the Difference After Dark,” a spooky Kaia Kater original called “Often as the Autumn,” “Hard Place” by H.E.R. and John Hartford’s “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down.”
“This has been such a fun project to work on,” added Tray Wellington. “Jake, Kaia and Nelson, it’s just been so amazing. It’s really been pushing me.”
Jake Blount told the crowd at Red Hat Amphitheater that the idea for the band name started with a fiddle tune called “Old Sport” or “Dangerfield.” It turns out that the tune is named after an abolitionist named Dangerfield Newby who ran guns and fought with John Brown at the Harpers Ferry raid in 1859.
“Dangerfield Newby had a really inspiring life story, a really difficult life story,” said Jake Blount on stage. “He was born enslaved in Virginia, was taken across to Ohio to freedom where he grew up as a blacksmith. He made his living that way and he married a woman who was also enslaved. Her owner decided that he wanted to sell her down the river because he was tight on cash. Sell her down to the deep South and once people went down there they often didn’t come back. And Dangerfield resolved to buy her back, her and their children out of slavery so that he could free them and they could have a good life together. But he wasn’t able to put the money together.”
“So (Dangerfield) joined John Brown. He started running guns, feeling that rebellion was the only way to gain his freedom. He killed two men at Harpers Ferry before a sniper up on one of the buildings loaded a metal spike in his rifle and shot it through Dangerfield’s neck. And he lay in the streets for days while pigs ate his body. It just goes to show the deep difficult troubled history that underlies all the wonderful music we’re here to hear. All of this old string band music, all that old blues stuff, it comes out of that history. And these stories are embedded in it even in songs that don’t seem to be related. One of the common threads in all of our work is bringing those stories to the front.”
“In honor of Dangerfield Newby, we are New Dangerfield,” said Jake Blount to the audience at Red Hat Amphitheater on September 30, 2023.
This post was written and prepared by David Brower.