Bluegrass, folk trio Steel Betty to bring both fun and rough edges to Bayou Theater
Steel Betty mandolin player David McDonald said there’s something about singing really loud with your friends that’s a whole lot of fun. He and his bandmates, Madeleine Froncek and Micah Motenko will share their unique blend of bluegrass and folk at University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Bayou Theater on Thursday, April 2 at 7:30 p.m.
“All three of us started playing music as kids, always trying new things,” said McDonald. “When Micah joined the band, he brought bluegrass standards with him. We weren’t playing much of that four years ago, but this feels the best. It’s fast, it’s fun and people respond to it, so we got more and more into bluegrass.”
McDonald said he especially grew to like the bluegrass genre. “You don’t have to be too perfect at it,” he said. “The rough edges of it can be part of the style. You can have an attitude about it, and you have to be able to play a lot of notes fast and sing well, but it has a different feel to it than classical music or jazz.”
Bluegrass is like “country punk rock to me,” he said. “It’s got a devil-may-care feeling to it that we all like.”
McDonald said that four years ago, he’d met Froncek on the Austin music scene and hit it off musically. “I met Micah in person after I’d seen a video of a guy and a girl singing together—and when I saw him in a music store, I realized he was with the guy in the video,” he said. “I ended up playing some gigs with him, and then he auditioned for Steel Betty. He joined about six months after the band started.”
The band’s unusual name came after the group couldn’t think of anything that felt right. “We were kicking around names and a friend said we should call ourselves Steel Betty because that’s what old guys in Texas call their trucks,” he said. “I knew we’d play folk and country-leaning music, and that name seemed like it would serve that goal, so that’s where the name came from.”
McDonald said that he hoped the audience would soon find that the group doesn’t phone it in—ever. “I try to do something in every show that I’m not sure will work,” he said. “This is a living, breathing performance. We take risks on stage. I hope the audience comes away thinking we could have played it safe but we got out of our comfort zone.”
He said the group also thought it was important to try to make the audience laugh. “We have built in a lot of ways through music and banter that we can make people laugh and connect,” he said. “That makes us more relatable. The stage can drive a wedge between the performer and the audience. If you can connect with people over the stage, then it’s even more powerful than a connection that you could make if the stage wasn’t there.”
The audience, said McDonald, should see three people being themselves on stage. “That’s what I want them to see,” he said. “A demonstration of what it’s like to really show up and be present and be yourself.”
Go online for tickets or more information about events at the Bayou Theater.