The Mother Corn Shuckers is an acoustic bluegrass band that “started out as a bunch of guys around the campfire” playing music, said Mark Hughes of Arroyo Grande.
Hughes coined the term “beer grass” because “we all like to drink beer,” while playing around the campfire.
The group’s website calls them a “ragged band of surf-a-billies,” who play “foot stompin’ melodies.” Some of their songs include “Corn Liquor,” “Bottom of the Sea” and “Highway.”
Julie London of the SLO Down Pub said “it sounds like the Soggy Bottom Boys of the George Clooney movie, ‘Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?’ ”
Instruments include washboard, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, harmonica, stand-up bass and two or three guitars, plus vocals.
After about a year of playing casually, the four original members started performing locally at the Shell Beach art walk, after being told how great they were by friends. They walked from venue to venue and garnered many new fans.
They began to play at the SLO Down Pub in Arroyo Grande. Now they have eight members and play all over the county — at the downtown San Luis Obispo Farmers Market, in Pozo, Santa Margarita and among other spots. They play parties, weddings, wineries, coffeehouses, pubs, bars and festivals.
They appeal to a wide audience. Band members range in age from 25 to 60. Most of the members have a “day job.” Hughes, age 50, is a contractor and does remodeling. When asked when he will quit his day job to become a full-time musician, Hughes said, “Never. I love construction; it’s creating, like an art.”
Other band members include a school teacher, a Web designer, a counselor for Transitions-Mental Health Association, a Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant employee, a full-time musician, who plays in several bands, and a “surfer dude.”
Hughes plays banjo and back up harmony; Che Miller plays mandolin, guitar and sings lead vocals; Cody St. James plays guitar and sings lead vocals; Lillian Dennis plays fiddle and dances with her twin sister; Chris Dennis plays slide guitar; Alan Vogan plays bass and sings; Kurt Michels plays washboard, percussion and sings; and Jeff Pienack plays harmonica, guitar and sings.
And now, they have started writing their own songs. Miller, St. James and Vogan are the songwriters. Miller and original band member Shawn Canon, who has since moved to New Mexico, came up with the band’s name.
Hughes, after graduating from Arroyo Grande High School at age 17, biked 3,000 miles around Europe, then worked in a youth hostel, on a yacht and in the travel industry for several years.
He did a stint in college and then settled into construction. He has a daughter, 17, and a son, 16, who are both at Arroyo Grande High School. In addition to his day job, being a parent and belonging to the band, Hughes has volunteered for schools, Habitat for Humanity and Surfrider Foundation, building sets and organizing art shows.
“We’re a fun band. We connect with many generations from teens to the 80s,” Hughes said.
To see the Mother Corn Shuckers live, come to the SLO Down Pub at 1200 E. Grand Ave. in Arroyo Grande on May 12. The group will be playing from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m.
Gayle Cuddy and Cynthia Lambert write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cuddy at 489-1026 or firstname.lastname@example.org.