Almost two decades ago, four men who love playing bluegrass music came together to compete in the RockyGrass Music Competition. This performance at this particular competition sparked something in this group of musicians—a desire to make something of this group and pursue music together in their home state of New Mexico.
Before they could move forward, they would need a band name.
A friend of the band got creative and came up with over 300 band names, and, ironically enough, that’s all it took for Mystic Lizard to be born.
“We each picked a handful of names that we liked, and Mystic Lizard was the only one we all had in common,” said Bob Gray, mandolinist for the band.
Known most in the New Mexico area for the wide variety of music they perform, the members of Mystic Lizard pride themselves in their ability to perform progressive and traditional bluegrass, pop, swing, and jazz. They even play a little bit of The Beatles.
“As far as bluegrass bands go, we are pretty eclectic,” Gray said. “It’s great when you’ve got great musicians that can play that variety in their music. Bob Goldstein, our guitar player, really does know so many songs. We always try to play a song at every show we’ve never played before by getting requests from the audience.”
As versatile artists, Mystic Lizard’s musical influences, such as Bill Monroe, Sam Bush, Earl Munde, and New Grass Revival, are the band members credited with influencing them most in their music. Not to mention, guitarist Bob Goldstein studied with national banjo champion Gary Davis and Grammy Award-nominated jazz legend Gene Dunlap when he was younger, attending many workshops with various artists over the years.
“I’m from Indiana, only a few miles from the Bean Blossom Bluegrass Music Festival. I went to the festival in the late 1960s with some friends and got to see Bill Monroe play in the old barn,” Gray said. “At the time, I didn’t even know what a mandolin was. That’s where I got my first exposure.”
Known for their progressiveness and versatility but influenced most by traditional greats like Bill Monroe make Mystic Lizard who they are as a band, but with a name like Mystic Lizard, it’s not surprising that audiences most respond to the band’s versatility and personality in addition to their traditional three-part harmonies.
“Our goal was never to make it big,” Gray said. “In New Mexico, it can be hard to get people to come to bluegrass festivals, but as a band, we work toward keeping the band going. We play the Southwest Pickers Festival every year as well.”
After a few band member changes and the survival of a pandemic, Mystic Lizard is still performing today, doing what they love most.
After semi-retiring during the COVID-19 pandemic, the members of Mystic Lizard thought it was time to hang up their hats—or their guitars. But in the last year, the world had something else for them in store.
People started reaching out to them, asking them to come to play at a few festivals and semi-regular events, sparking the new start of Mystic Lizard. While keeping it low-key, they are happy to be back on stage doing what they love.
“Basically, we thought the band was over, and it was a pleasant surprise that things are coming back together. If someone wants to book us, we are open to performing!” said Gray.
What is the one thing they focus on most about being back playing together? Their friendship.
“We’ve developed some great bonds and friendships in Mystic Lizard,” Gray said. “It’s nice to get together to play, and it clicks. I also play in a newer band, and it’s so different when everyone knows each other so well. Once you’ve played together so long, you jell differently.”
While the band only recorded one album about ten years ago, they have written some original music and instrumental songs over the years that they like to include in their live performances.
Some of these live performances today take place at the band’s longest-running regular gig at Range Cafe in Bernalillo, New Mexico, where they perform in none other than the Lazy Lizard Lounge, ironically enough.
As the band moves into a new era of hope and possibility, they have one goal: to keep performing together.
“We just want to keep things going and hopefully work on some new material,” Gray said. “A few of us are in our 70s, so we just want to keep playing together and see what happens.”