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Live From the Center of the Universe

"Ashland Coffee & Tea was the first place where people really listened," mandolin player Pete Frostic says. "It's just very comfortable," adds bassist Darrell Muller. "We know what it's going to feel like and sound like onstage, that there will be no surprises."

The band settles in once again at Ashland Coffee & Tea May 5 to record a live album to sell on its Web site and at shows. The recording should be available this summer.

Muller says a live album makes sense because the band has further developed its sound in the past year, playing such venues as Town Hall in New York City with Grisman, which Frostic calls "amazing."

"There's so much history there," Frostic says. "Bob Dylan kind of got his start there. And then there was the Strawberry Festival in Yosemite Valley, with this incredible setting."

These touring adventures have helped the band's songs evolve. At the Ashland concert, new compositions will be performed, along with crowd favorites like "I Know You Rider," which Muller learned off an old Grateful Dead record. Material by Randy Newman and the Beatles may surface as well. Frostic says they may try something for the very first time that night, "because it's never like the very first time," and capturing such a moment would express the improvisational nature of the band.

Whatever songs are played, fans can expect to hear straight up Bill Monroe-style bluegrass picking, bossa nova workouts and Latin grooves. Banjo fills will range from splintery explorations to rolling runs reminiscent of Earl Scruggs. Swing-soaked fiddle solos will complement fierce guitar runs. Frostic's mandolin dexterity will meld with all the instruments at one time or another in an almost telepathic interchange.

Despite a pretty heady 2005, Frostic thinks Ashland Coffee & Tea was the right choice. "It's one of the best venues we've played. It's a pretty quiet room. The sound man George Garrett is totally on it; he's always totally dialed in. And there's something about Ashland Coffee & Tea that's intangible. It just clicks." — Andy Garrigue

Old School Freight Train plays Ashland Coffee & Tea, 100 N. Railroad Ave. in Ashland, May 5 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance. Call 798-1702.

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