The Special Consensus: Over 40 Years & A Lifetime to Go
By Shelby Campbell
In 1975, the world of bluegrass was introduced to one of the greats. When Greg Cahill stepped on stage for the first time with his band, the first VHS tape had just been introduced, Jaws had become one of the first blockbuster films, Bruce Springsteen had just released his third album and the cost of a stamp was 10¢. Longevity in anything requires dedication and patience. Not only does Greg process these qualities; he wears them humbly.
The Special Consensus is an excellent classic bluegrass band that attracts even the youngest bluegrass listeners. They approach music with an incredible energy that draws listeners from the moment the first note pours from their mouths and instruments. The band began performing in the Midwest in spring 1975, with Greg being the sole constant and over 40 band members revolving in and out of the band over the years. It’s nearly impossible to describe Cahill’s extensive music career, but in four decades, he has been a banjo player, band leader, teacher, tour organizer, publicist, record producer, and an International Bluegrass Music Association board member.
“I started the band with friends in the Chicago area, and in 1975, bassist Marc Edelstein and I decided we wanted to try playing full time. That became the official beginning of the band as we know it,” said Greg.
The Special Consensus released its first album in 1979, the year the band began performing nationally. In 2000, Pinecastle Records released the band’s first performance video - recorded for Iowa Public Television’s Old Time Country Music Show—honoring the band’s 25th anniversary.
In the early 2000s, The Special Consensus received a standing ovation after their first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium and since then has performed all over the world, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Europe, South America, and Australia.
With 18 band recordings on the shelf by 2016, The Special Consensus has recorded for Tin Ear Records, Acoustic Revival Records in Chicago, Turquoise Records in Kentucky, Pinecastle Records in North Carolina and, most recently, the Nashville-based Compass Records.
The Special Consensus is made up of Nick Dumas on mandolin and vocals; Dan Eubanks on bass and vocals; Rick Faris on guitar and vocals; and Greg Cahill on banjo and vocals, with each one bringing his own personal feel for bluegrass. Their sound, somewhere between traditional and modern, is completed by arrangements of strong vocals and harmonies that present new songs with a traditional feel.
Hailing from Brier, WA, Nick grew up listening to bluegrass music—being introduced to it by his dobro-playing grandfather. Inspired from watching his grandfather’s band, Nick was 12 when he began taking fiddle lessons. After learning to play the mandolin, guitar and banjo, Nick helped co-found his first band, Northern Departure, and quickly became a household name in the region. He later co-founded another band, North Country Bluegrass, before joining The Special Consensus in 2015.
Dan was listening to bluegrass at a young age. Growing up in Missouri, he learned to play the drums, banjo, guitar, and electric bass before reaching his teen years. He played in country and rock bands throughout high school and attended college on a music scholarship. After many years of teaching in St. Louis, Dan’s desire to get back into bluegrass led to his move to Nashville, Tenn. Since then, he has performed with various bands, worked as a studio session musician, and appeared as a supporting musician on CMT’s Nashville. Dan joined The Special Consensus in 2013.
Rick, well-known in the bluegrass industry as an award-winning guitar player, joined his first band in 1998. He plays the dobro, guitar, banjo and mandolin. Rick’s first band, The Faris Family Bluegrass Band, won many SPBGMA (Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America) awards. Rick was one of the first teachers at the Americana Music Academy in Lawrence, Kansas. He joined The Special Consensus in 2009 and spends his spare time as a luthier building guitars.
Greg grew up in a musical family in the Chicago area. He learned how to play his first tunes from his grandfather, who gave him a harmonica at a young age. Greg took up playing the accordion at eight-years-old, but it was in high school that he truly fell in love with bluegrass and folk music.
“Many of the top folk artists came to Chicago in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and it was playing folk music that brought me to bluegrass music and the banjo,” said Greg.
While a junior at St. Mary’s College in Minnesota, Greg’s course in life changed when his friend Pat Frawley played the LP, Earl Scruggs Foggy Mountain Banjo. After graduation, Greg served in the Vietnam War before pursuing his new passion and forming The Special Consensus.
Four decades later, The Special Consensus released its eighteenth album, Long I Ride, on which they are joined by special guests Della Mae, Rob Ickes, Trey Hensley, Summer McMahan and producer Alison Brown.
“Long I Ride continues Special C’s streak of award-winning music on Compass Records. When you see The Special Consensus in person, you get an energetic, entertaining set of music - and that’s just what you get on this album,” said Tom Adams, music critic.
The Special Consensus recently won an IBMA award for Instrumental Recorded Performance of the Year for Fireball, which appears on Long I Ride.
“We have been very honored to have received a Grammy nomination and several IBMA awards since working with Alison at Compass Records,” said Greg. “Recording Fireball was her idea, and we had an absolute blast recording that tune. We have learned to make every song or tune special from working with Alison.
While The Special Consensus has been busy winning awards, it has not stopped them from planning another bluegrass cruise. Sailing from Long Beach, California to Baja, Mexico, The Special Consensus invites fans to join them in playing and listening to great bluegrass music.
“We went on one of Rhonda Vincent’s cruises years ago, and we had a big time - music everywhere for days. We are thankful that Danny Stuart invited us to join him in being a part of this one,” Greg said.
Sharing music with a fun, receptive audience, The Special Consensus connects with every person on a gut level—even after four decades. Some things never grow old; they grow better with time.