Bluegrass duo connects with audience

In true bluegrass fashion, Jeff Austin and Chris Castino didn't need percussion to shake up their audience Wednesday night at The Bottleneck.

"We forgot the drummer at home," Castino whispered into the microphone before starting the first song. Screams of excitement and loud "yeahs" seemed to suggest the audience didn't notice.

Instead, the lead singers from The Big Wu and Yonder Mountain String Band charmed the crowd with the sweet sounds of mandolin and acoustic guitar. The pair recently teamed up to record a debut album, "Songs from the Tin Shed." This stop in Lawrence marks one of several scheduled in March to promote next week's album release.

It only took a couple of minutes for the duo to win over the crowd. Austin's deep voice resonated strong and smooth above the mandolin, ignoring the crash of beer bottles hitting the ground. Austin and Castino were in sync with one another.

On stage, their performance seemed as though it were just another jam session, only this time they had an audience. Together, they created a mix called "jam grass."

A highlight of the performance was their disturbing duet "I'm Crying." Austin compared the song to "a soft bird falling out of the tree." They sang together of the ghosts of faded love, while Austin played a mournful mandolin.

Colorado musician Benny "Burle" Galloway graced the stage for most of the songs on bass. Musicians hail him as something of a legend. Yonder Mountain String Band recorded a full set of songs by Galloway on its fifth album, "Old Hands."

Mountain of Venus opened for the duo with an enchanting mix of jazz and rock. Lead singer Tanya Shylock could very well have been a Greek goddess with her seductive rhythm and dance on stage.

Although Austin and Castino have developed quite a following in their respective bands, Wednesday night's performance proved that if they quit their day jobs to permanently unite, audiences probably wouldn't mind.

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