By Josette Keelor
FRONT ROYAL -- Members of the Shenandoah Spirits bluegrass band have plastered their faces to whiskey barrels. The only thing is, they don't drink whiskey.
Maybe the beverage shares a past with bluegrass music, but the three-man band from Warren County said the only time they lift barrels is in their marketing materials.
Friends for more than 30 years, banjo player John Dehart, of Winchester, and guitarist Joe Dioso, of Front Royal, attended high school together in Washington, D.C. Then each later moved to the Shenandoah Valley with their respective wives.
That's where they met third band member, bassist Wayne Kite, of Bentonville two years ago when they were looking to start a band.
Kite said he knew of Dioso and Dehart and they had heard about him too before all finally met at The Knotty Pine Restaurant in Front Royal.
"It was a knowledge at a distance kind of thing," Kite said.
Shenandoah Spirts has had most of its gigs so far at the restaurant Dehart called "the genesis of our band," and this summer will be no different. They plan to perform every third Thursday of the month, with some river lot parties and pig roasts mixed in here and there.
On a recent Friday night, they performed for the first time at Front Royal's Happy Creek Coffee and Tea, where old wood ceilings frame new lacquered tables, and iced herbal tea is served in mason jars with handles.
It's a rustic retreat where the band's soft harmonics mixed with freshly brewed coffee and gluten-free delicacies, encouraging customers to peek their heads into the dining area while waiting on their orders.
All three of the men sing, but Kite said he's there mostly to provide off notes for the other two.
"John very much has a traditional bluegrass voice," he said.
They perform covers mostly, with favorites including "Fox on the Run," "Rocky Top" and "Country Roads," layering on originals like "Little John and Joe," which Dehart and Dioso wrote in the 1970s, and "Johnny D's Breakdown." They also mix in some Rolling Stones, like "Sweet Virginia."
But according to Dioso, "Bluegrass music has always been at my heart."
Dehard provides maintenance support for the Quality Inn, Dioso works in historic preservation of buildings in Washington and Kite runs Kite's Carpentry from his Bentonville home.
They rehearse Sundays at the open air South River Market in front of Kite's house where they can try out new material on a live audience. That's also where they record CDs in Kite's home studio to sell at their concerts.
"It just happens to be in my front yard," he said.
The Shenandoah Spirits plan to perform at The Knotty Pine, 801 N. Royal Ave., on the third Thursday of each month all summer. For more information, call 540-303-9477 or 540-660-5082, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or email@example.com