Pete and Me and The Devil Makes Three

by Jack Knight

Many have heard of The Devil Makes Three and have probably seen them perform live. Previously having graced our town with their musical presence, they are gearing up to do so again next month. A fusion of bluegrass and punk/rock, The Devil Makes Three creates an intoxicating blend of rhythm and word, causing Chico’s populace to instinctively flock to their shows like the salmon of… well you get the idea. I had the good luck of speaking with guitarist and lead singer, Pete Bernhard about, among other things, the band’s touring, influences, and songwriting.
The Devil Makes Three had lately appeared on the bill for the Austin City Limits Music Festival. As a full time touring band, Bernhard expressed that although they had a lot of fun with the shows they played, they had to miss out on much of the festival.

“We just went in and played our show and didn’t really catch much music, which is often times the way it happens. There isn’t time to do everything you wanted to do, sadly.” Bernhard made this disadvantage seem a price worth paying though, for doing what he and the band loves. “We really love playing live. It’s a big part of what we do. We’re a live band. We love performing.”

As a band that has toured the nation multiple times over, I was curious to know how Chico fit into their yearly routine. “Well we have always played smaller towns…partially because the musical style, but also because we’re from small towns ourselves. We’ll continue to do it and it’s fun. Small towns are some of the best shows we’ve played.” This is definitely not an attitude employed by most bands of their caliber, but it‘s paying off for them. The Santa Cruz birthed band is starting to enjoy comparable success throughout the country. Bernhard says their music is “not quite as big on the east coast as it is in California, but it’s certainly getting there.”
Interested in hearing about the bands inspirations, I prompted Bernhard to talk about their cover of Rodger Miller’s “Uncle Harvey’s Plane”.

“Roger Miller is a genius. Whenever we do cover songs we try to pick somebody who’s a big influence on us.” Their other covers include Blind Willie McTell and Doc Watson to boot.

Pete is the primary source of original songs for the band and as a fellow songwriter I found it impossible to resist picking Pete’s brain on the matter. I asked him about “All Hail”, a song on Do Wrong Right (2009), which depicts a Huxley-like dystopian view of today’s society. “Social commentary is a big part of folk music. I’ve always loved that. I definitely make a point of doing it. I think it makes for good subject matter and makes people tune in and listen a little bit more”.

The Devil Makes Three were indeed pioneers of the bluegrass/punk movement. I wanted to hear Pete’s perspective on the subject. “When we started out we were sort of one of a kind, and now, [Pete laughs] there’s a lot of bands who are similar to us. It was impossible for us to get gigs. Nobody understood what we were doing. We weren’t a bluegrass band. We really weren’t a rock band. We didn’t have a drummer. So it was really an uphill battle. I’d like to think we had something to do with it. I certainly hope so cause we love blues music, country music, and the tradition of folk music. We really wanted to move that tradition into the future. Not to do it exactly the way people have done it in the past but to make it something new, to make it something the kids are going to want to do, and that people are going to be interested in.” Spoken like a true pioneer.

The Devil Makes Three is now touring the west coast and will be stopping soon at a theater near you. Thanks to Pete for proverbially ‘Nhard-dogging the interview and sharing his time with me. This band never fails to put on a fantastic performance and if you’ve seen them before, you’re likely to enjoy an evening of foot-stomping and whiskey-infused dancing fun. For you first-time Devil Makes Three patrons? Well, you’ll probably just get the same thing. Not a bad deal.

The Devil Makes Three will be in Chico at the Senator Theatre this Wednesday, November 7th. The music starts at 8pm and tickets are $20.

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