Early proponents of the progressive bluegrass movement, the Seldom Scene have remained one of the genre's most enduring acts with an impressive career that spans half-a-century. Since their 1971 inception in Washington, D.C., the group have thrived on fusing traditional bluegrass chops with elements of rock, pop, and jazz, writing their own distinctive material while covering everything from old genre standards to rock classics. A prolific studio band, the Seldom Scene issued eight LPs and one concert album during their first decade alone and have remained remarkably consistent well into the 21st century despite numerous lineup shuffles. Known for their strong musicianship, playful humor, and versatility, the band have amassed numerous highlights including 1975's excellent Live at the Cellar Door, 1985's Jonathan Edwards collaboration Blue Ridge, and 2007's Grammy Award-nominated Scenechronized. In 2019, after decades recording primarily for the Rebel and Sugar Hill labels, the Seldom Scene inked a deal with Rounder Records and released Changes.

In 1971, mandolinist John Duffey, banjo player Ben Eldridge, guitarist John Starling, bassist Tom Gray, and Dobro player Mike Auldridge formed the Seldom Scene. The band derived their name from their once-a-week performances, first at the Red Fox Inn in Bethesda, Maryland, and later at the Birchmere Restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia. Early albums like 1973's Act 1 and 1975's Live at the Cellar Door set the pace for progressive bluegrass while defining a unique sound that included Starling's smooth vocals, Duffey's versatile tenor, and Auldridge's ringing Dobro. The group's smooth harmonies, love of eclectic material, and Duffey's colorful stage antics further separated the Seldom Scene from their peers. In 1977, Starling left the band to return to his medical practice and was replaced by vocalist Phil Rosenthal.

The addition of Rosenthal and a change of labels to Sugar Hill did little to alter the Seldom Scene's basic sound. The group's first two Sugar Hill albums, 1978's Act Four and 1981's After Midnight, continued to draw material from traditional sources like Jimmie Rodgers and contemporary ones like Eric Clapton. The later album included both "Lay Down Sally" and concert favorite "After Midnight." When performing live, the band enjoyed stretching out on songs like "After Midnight," allowing Duffey and Auldridge to take extended solos that sounded closer to jazz than bluegrass. In 1986, after making five albums with the Seldom Scene, Rosenthal departed and was replaced by Lou Reid. Original bass player Gray also left, making room for T. Michael Coleman.

With the addition of two new bandmembers, the Seldom Scene recorded the appropriately titled Change of Scenery in 1988. Some fans objected to Coleman's electric bass, but despite this "progressive" change, albums like 1990's Scenic Roots proved to be more traditional than earlier efforts. The band also had a talent for turning pop songs like the Beatles' "What Goes On" into standard bluegrass material. In 1993 Reid left the group and was replaced with ex-member John Starling. Although Starling remained with the band for only a year, his return proved a real treat to fans of the early-'70s lineup, as did the Seldom Scene's 1994 recording Like We Used to Be.

In 1995 and 1996, the Seldom Scene weathered more changes than several bands combined. In 1995, dissension surfaced within the group because of their light touring schedule and the feeling among certain members that the band had lost their progressive edge. Singer Mondi Klein, bassist Coleman, and original member Auldridge parted ways with the group to turn the progressive bluegrass band Chesapeake into a full-time project. The Seldom Scene's remaining members recruited Dobroist Fred Travers, bassist Ronnie Simpkins, and former Johnson Mountain Boys singer Dudley Connell. Together, the re-formed band recorded 1996's Dream Scene.

Before the group could consolidate their new lineup, founder and spiritual leader Duffey died of a heart attack. "John was 80 percent of the Seldom Scene," Eldridge told The Boston Herald, and no one, not even the band, could picture continuing without him. "The last year has been real tough for the band," Connell admitted to The Baltimore Sun in 1998. "Because [John] was not only a wonderful musician and singer, but also kind of the personality of the band." Still, many wanted the group to continue, and the year-old lineup wanted to carry on the work they had begun with Duffey, so they recruited ex-member Lou Reid to help out on vocals and play mandolin.

While Eldridge was the only remaining original member, the band continued to carry the spirit set forth by the Seldom Scene in 1971. Their 2000 recording Scene It All featured both ringing Dobro and tight harmonies, as well as covers by Chuck Berry, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan, while 2007's Different Roads anthology and the all-new Scenechronized continued the group's love affair with melody and impeccable musicianship. In what turned out to be a reunion of sorts, the band welcomed back both Starling and Gray to rework many of their most requested live songs for their 2014 studio album Long Time...Seldom Scene, which featured guest spots from Emmylou Harris, Chris Eldridge, and Rickie Simpkins. It was also the band's first recording for the Smithsonian Folkways label.

Longtime guitarist and banjo player Ben Eldridge retired in 2016, ending a continuous 44-year stint with the group, and was replaced by Rickie Simpkins, who was then usurped by multi-instrumentalist Ron Stewart, who made his studio debut on 2019's Changes, the band's first release for Rounder. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr., Rovi

The Seldom Scene 1979 - Rider (Bluegrass)
The Seldom Scene plays "Everybody's Talkin'" at County Sales, Floyd, Virginia
Seldom Scene - Wait a Minute - 1996
The Seldom Scene & Billy Strings - I Know you Rider-Charm City Bluegrass Festival
Seldom Scene w John Duffey - Live at Winterfest, 1988
Hickory Wind - The Seldom Scene
The Seldom Scene “Wait A Minute” | Jubilee | KET
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