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You Have to Hear Tray Wellington Band Cover Kid Cudi

Dec 7, 2023

It’s that time, when music writers everywhere are thinking and writing about the best of the year’s music, blurbing away for year-end round ups. (Speaking of, our BGS year-end picks will be unveiled next week.) While it’s right to view ranking, commodifying, and objectifying music with a degree of skepticism, there is certainly something constructive and generative about reflecting on the songs, albums, and performances that have stuck with us throughout a year. It’s especially illuminating when certain music immediately jumps out from the rest, requiring no particular organization or intention to be a constant presence throughout a year or to be remembered among the cream of the crop.

Tray Wellington Band’s cover of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness” is one such song. When the group performed it earlier this year at FWAAMFest in Texas, it wasn’t the first time I had heard their rendition, but it was the first time I noticed an audience hearing it themselves for the first time. I was struck by the reactions, in a non-bluegrass audience they varied from utter shock to outright glee – even other bands and artists on the lineup were beside themselves, as Tray Wellington Band laid out their one-of-a-kind cover of such a recognizable melody. Later this year, I saw TWB perform again at Earl Scruggs Music Festival in Tryon, North Carolina, and yet again, down the road a handful of weeks later at IBMA’s Bluegrass Live! festival and conference in Raleigh. Each time, regardless of the audience’s starting point or their baseline understanding of bluegrass, of the banjo, of cover songs such as this, “Pursuit of Happiness” would generate electricity in the crowd.

There’s a reason why hearing a North Carolina-born, Raleigh-based (via east Tennessee) Scruggs-style banjo player’s take on “Pursuit of Happiness” reminds of Reno & Smiley performing Johnny Cash and Elvis hits and Flatt & Scruggs recording buckets of Bob Dylan songs. This is a tradition in bluegrass as old as the genre itself. Executed as artfully as this, it has the potential to bring countless new fans of string band music into the fold. That “Pursuit of Happiness” retains its impact, no matter the audience – thanks, in large part, to this band’s remarkable musicality as an ensemble – at bluegrass festivals, African American music festivals, or even in Earl Scruggs’ home county, speaks to that ineffable quality of this music that we all hold so dear. Sometimes, a bluegrass song just grabs you and it won’t let go. “Pursuit of Happiness” is destined to grab more than its own share of ears, and Tray Wellington and band deserve it and then some, for bringing this track to the world.


 

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You Have to Hear Tray Wellington Band Cover Kid Cudi
You Have to Hear Tray Wellington Band Cover Kid Cudi