In 2002, a trio of East Coast transplants in Central California created an appreciation of bluegrass music delivered with a hint of punk rock attitude. The results: over 20 years as a band, six full-length albums, and a 2023 US fall tour, including a show at The Observatory in Santa Ana.
There are artists that seek validation from being labeled as a specific genre; then there is The Devil Makes Three. Formed in 2002, The Devil Makes Three could quickly be branded as another bluegrass band due to the instrumentation that comprises the group: primarily an upright bass, acoustic guitar, and banjo. Aside from their instrumentation, The Devil Makes Three, in most cases, feels and sounds more like a punk rock Americana band with how much volume they deliver with only three instruments playing onstage.
What sets them apart from any of their contemporaries in bluegrass is their story-telling delivery. This is not by accident, confirms guitarist Pete Bernhard. “I always want our songs to unfold like short stories,” he said. “You could think of them like the chapters of a book.” Regardless if listening to a song from their self-titled release, or the more recent “Chains Are Broken,” the listener quickly becomes engrossed in the lyrics and they become a character in the story, if not, the main character.
The founding members of The Devil Makes Three met each other in high school in Vermont, but the band did not form until 2002 when Pete Bernhard (lead vocals and guitar) and Cooper McBean (guitar and banjo) finally planted roots in Santa Cruz, California. In the early iterations of the band, Barnhard and McBean played punk and rock together. Not long after the move to Santa Cruz, Lucia Turino, another high school friend from Vermont, moved to California, learned upright bass, and joined the duo to form the trio.
One of TDM3’s first shows was hosted by the coffee shop where the band was also employed. In 2002, they released their self-titled album featuring “Old Number Seven,” “The Graveyard,” and “The Plank.”
Although the band released two more full-length albums, “Longjohns, Boots, and Belts” and “Do Wrong Right,” and two live albums, they did not appear on the Billboard Top Bluegrass Charts until their fourth full-length in 2014, “I’m a Stranger Here.” They followed up this album with another chart-topping full-length album, “Redemption and Ruin,” which caught large-scale media attention.
Their 2018 album, “Chains Are Broken,” leans more to the Americana feel with the percussions being the driving force of the album.
A few months ago, TDM3 released their EP “Puppets,” and is celebrating 21 years as a group. They will begin their fall tour later this week and will feature The Ditrani Brother and Christopher Paul Stelling. As part of the jaunt, The Devil Makes Three returns to Southern California for the first time in almost five years, performing four consecutive shows in San Diego, Santa Ana, Ventura, and Monterey. On Thursday October 5th, see them live at The Observatory in Santa Ana.
Although The Devil Makes Three’s ensemble is that of a bluegrass trio, they deliver a more traditional Americana sound with an appropriate blend of folk, rock and roll, and heavy punk tones that transcends multiple genres.