"There's a road that goes out of every town. All you've got to do is get on it," Pete Bernhard says.
The guitarist/singer and his cohorts in the raw and raucous trio The Devil Makes Three have found their way onto that road numerous times since they first left their picaresque rural hometown of Brattleboro, Vermont. Back then, they had no idea it would lead them to such auspicious destinations as the Newport Folk and Austin City Limits Festivals, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, and on tours with Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell and Trampled By Turtles. Along the way, they drew numerous accolades from a growing fan base and press alike.
TDM3's travels and travails serve as inspiration for their fourth album and their New West Records debut, I'm a Stranger Here, produced by Buddy Miller and recorded at Dan Auerbach's (Black Keys) Easy Eye Sound in Nashville.
With upright bassist Lucia Turino and guitarist Cooper McBean, Bernhard crafted a dozen tunes, part road songs, part heartbreak songs and part barnburners. While most bands are propelled from behind by a drummer, TDM3 builds exuberant rhythms from the inside out, wrapping finger-picked strings and upsurging harmonies around chugging acoustic guitar and bass, plying an ever-growing audience onto its feet to jump, shake and waltz.
TDM3's sound is garage-y ragtime, punkified blues, old n' new timey without settling upon a particular era, inspired as much by mountain music as by Preservation Hall jazz. "We bend genres pretty hard," Bernhard says.
The combination could only have happened via the circuitous route each of them took to forming the band. As kids in Vermont, "all raised by sort of hippie parents" who exposed them to folk, blues and jugbands, Bernhard says, they blazed a path to nearby Boston, Massachusetts in search of punk rock shows. They found venerable venues like The Rat and The Middle East, drawn to east coast bands like the Dropkick Murphys and Aus-Rotten.
"It would be like 6 bucks for 13 bands, everyone playing for 20 minutes," Bernhard says. "I had so much fun going to shows like that. The energy coming off the stage makes a circle with the crowd and comes back. We were really attracted to that energy."
Bernhard and McBean, a multi-instrumentalist who plays banjo, musical saw and bass, forged a particular bond. Unlike most of their mutual friends, they both liked to play acoustic music, with McBean showing Bernhard the wonders of Hank Williams and Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys. They kept in touch after high school, when nearly everyone in their clique relocated to the west coast like the characters in Delbert McClinton's song "Two More Bottles of Wine."
"It was a mass exodus of kids who went out to start bands and be creative, searching for the unknown, dreaming of something different," Bernhard says. "We wanted to get away from where we were from, as many kids do, and California was the farthest we could get." Eventually they landed in sunny Santa Cruz, California, where TDM3 took shape in 2001. Their early gigs were house concerts, then small bars, punk shows, bigger rock clubs and theaters and festivals, all the while defying genre and delighting whomever turned up to listen.
Turino learned bass to join the band, but her unremitting sense of rhythm comes naturally from being raised by parents who were dance teachers, and from her own dance background. Attacking the strings of her upright, she understands how to infuse songs with the force it takes to get a crowd moving.
And the songs on I'm a Stranger Here tell the rest of the story, with the music often joyously juxtaposed against lyric darkness...the rootless nature of being in a touring band, traveling from town to town with little sense of community, represented by a devil-like character ("Stranger")...thorny transitions into adulthood...struggling with relationships ("Worse or Better"), watching friends succumb to addiction ("Mr. Midnight"), coming to terms with mortality ("Dead Body Moving"), nostalgic notions of childhood ("Spinning Like a Top"). Bernhard even considers the destruction of changing weather patterns, inspired in part by Hurricane Katrina as well as a flood that wreaked havoc in Brattleboro ("Forty Days," a gospel rave-up recorded with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band).
Bernhard wrote more than 20 songs for the album and turned them over to producer Buddy Miller, who gravitated toward the darker material but insured that the recording was lit up by the band's innate ebullience. It was Miller's idea to record at Easy Eye rather than his renowned home studio. "Easy Eye is like Sun Records," Bernhard says. "There's one live tracking room filled with amazing gear, and that defines the kind of record you're going to make. That was exactly the record we wanted to make, and we knew Buddy was the one who could capture us playing together like we do."
For a band that made its bones with dynamic performances, recording an album is almost like coaxing lightning into a bottle, but Miller and TDM3 succeed on I'm a Stranger Here. Now they're continuing the journey that began when they found their way to the road that led them out of Vermont. "I can't wait to get onstage, I love it," Bernhard says. "Playing music for a living is a blessing and a curse, but for us there's no other option."
The Travelin’ McCourys do not stand still. They are on the road—and online—entertaining audiences with live shows that include some of the best musicians and singers from all genres. It’s always different, always exciting, and always great music.
No other band today has the same credentials for playing traditional and progressive music. As the sons of bluegrass legend Del McCoury, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin and Rob McCoury on banjo continue their father’s work—a lifelong dedication to the power of bluegrass music to bring joy into people’s lives. And with fiddler Jason Carter and bassist Alan Bartram, the ensemble is loved and respected by the bluegrass faithful. But the band is now combining their sound with others to make something fresh and rejuvenating.
They recently played with the Allman Brothers at Wanee Fest and then brought the house down at Warren Haynes’ Annual Christmas Jam, an invitation only Southern Rock homecoming. Their jam with the Lee Boys was hailed by many as the highlight of the evening, and once word of the live video hit the streets, sent new fans online to watch a supercharged combination of sacred steel, R&B, and bluegrass. They’ve also performed with Warren Haynes, Phish, and have a tour scheduled with the aforementioned Lee Boys. Ronnie McCoury described it as “peanut butter and jelly.” It was just right.
They can push forward so far because their roots are so deep. The band has a confidence that only comes with having paid their dues with twenty years on the bluegrass road. Other groups and new fans hear this immediately—the tight rhythm, the soulful material, and the confidence in taking bluegrass from the safety of the shore into uncharted waters.
Ronnie says, “We like to go in and play traditional bluegrass music the way we do it with Dad, but we also like to be able to step into situations where we can really stretch out. If we need to plug in, we’ll plug in. We’re open to anything.”
It’s that attitude, backed up by talent, that marks great musicians, traditional or progressive. The Travelin’ McCourys are twenty-first century musical pilgrims and adventurers. They’re onto something new, just like Bill Monroe was in the 1940s, but now we can see and hear that adventure live or online. Go see them, or—if you hold still long enough—they’ll come to you.
Right there, at two minutes and ten seconds into the first song, “Long Way Down.” The part where Gary Nichols sings, “Girl, we both know where your soul is bound.” Only he bleeds it as much as he sings it. He sounds murderous, maniacal. Her soul is bound for nothing skyward, for nothing heavenly. And he’s fine with that.
Richard Bailey’s banjo plays funky, little Kentucky-goes-to-Memphis rolls. Tammy Rogers’ fiddle soars. Brent Truitt’s mandolin chops time, and Mike Fleming’s bass pounds the downbeat. And all that is righteous and right-on. Elevated, even. But Nichols—he lets loose something the opposite of righteousness. It’s a howl, full of hurt and anger and life. Starts on the highest E note that 99.9% of male singers can hit, then ascends into a sweet falsetto, and then opens up like the gates of Hell, into a reeling screech.
“That made me dizzy for a second,” Nichols says, remembering the moment he sang the line. “Really, I almost passed out. There are certain lines in SteelDrivers songs that require a little bit of Wilson Pickett.”
Nichols knows about Wilson Pickett, who recorded “Mustang Sally” at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, less than three miles from Jimmy Nutt’s NuttHouse, where the SteelDrivers recorded these Muscle Shoals Recordings. Nichols is from Muscle Shoals. He grew up as a guitar slinger and a soul shouter, which should not be any help in fronting one of bluegrass music’s most engaging outfits. But part of the reason the SteelDrivers are such an engaging band is the seemingly incongruous blend of soul and slink, blues and country, mountain coal and red dirt.
“I think that’s what moves people when they come to see us: the realness and rawness and edge,” says Rogers, who formed the SteelDrivers in 2005 with Bailey, Fleming, multi-instrumentalist Mike Henderson, and soulful singer (and now-acclaimed contemporary country artist) Chris Stapleton. That version of the SteelDrivers received three GRAMMY® nominations and won an audience that was surprised and initially saddened by the 2010 and 2011 departures of Stapleton and Henderson. But the entries of Nichols and virtuoso mandolin talent Truitt have created a SteelDrivers band that carries the gutbucket ethic of the original combo, but pleases in different ways. They took home the GRAMMY for Best Bluegrass Album for The Muscle Shoals Recordings at the 2016 awards.
Nichols, who initially felt an obligation to replicate Stapleton’s mighty vocal turns, emerged as a vocalist of distinction, as a monster acoustic guitarist and as a songwriting force who wrote or co-wrote five of Shoals Recordings’ 11 songs. Rogers stepped up her songwriting as well, and she has credits on all but one of the album’s remaining songs. The one outlier on The Muscle Shoals Recordings is “Drinkin’ Alone,” a romp penned by Jay Knowles and former SteelDriver Stapleton. Wait, check that…
“Chris Stapleton and Mike Henderson will always be SteelDrivers,” Rogers says. “They aren’t in the band playing shows, but they are part of our sound, and part of our story.”
Truitt’s fluid mandolin added another virtuoso element to a group that is undergirded by Fleming’s upright bass and baritone harmonies.
“Mike is responsible for a lot of the emotion of the songs,” Nichols says. “He stands out more on this record vocally than he ever did before, and as a bass player he’s a big part of our sound. We don’t have a drummer, so he and I have to be the kick, snare, and high hat. He’s the backbone; I’m the hips.”
That’s not to say that this is all about swagger and sway. These Muscle Shoals Recordings hold much in the way of plaintive beauty. “Here She Goes,” written by Nichols and Dylan LeBlanc, is songwriting at its most honest—no posturing and no fronts. It’s a song about divorce, without blame: “If I were honest, I’d say she stayed too long,” Nichols sings, to a soundtrack aided by Jason Isbell, Nichols’ childhood friend and musical partner, who co-produced the track (and “Brother John”).
In the studio, the band kept pushing the tempo, perhaps to assuage the sadness and, perhaps, because it’s sometimes easier for master musicians to play with reckless abandon than with somber certainty.
“After we played it through, I spoke up and said, ‘Maybe it needs to be a bit faster,’” Rogers says. “Jason said, ‘Well, maybe we can just try harder.’ He was right, and we tried harder.”
Nichols and Isbell played together as teens when Nichols fronted Gulliver, a band that included bass man Jimbo Hart and drummer Ryan Tillery. When Nichols scored a major label deal with Mercury Records in 2006, he hit the road with Hart and Tillery. When Nichols exited Mercury, Hart and Tillery joined Isbell’s 400 Unit band.
Way back then, Gulliver worked with Jimmy Nutt, upon whose studio the SteelDrivers converged in late 2014 to make an uncommon and instantly identifiable album. Nutt cut his teeth at Rick Hall’s FAME studios, and Hall is the guy who produced “You Better Move On,” “Fancy,” “Slip Away,” and, come to think of it, Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally.” All that stuff is supposed to be a world removed from Nashville, from bluegrass, from banjos and mandolins. But the SteelDrivers place it all in close proximity. They make music born of collisions of traditions, from meldings of things assumed un-meldable.
“This stuff is all related,” Nichols says. “The note selection, the melodies, and the licks are the same. It’s just a different accent.”
Nichols and the SteelDrivers speak in their own accent, one that charms and sears and beguiles. This is a band like no other, by inclination but not by calculation. Nichols, Rogers, Bailey, Fleming, Truitt … Those of us who have listened all know where their souls are bound. Bound to triumph. Bound to rise. Bound to matter. Bound to resound. Bound to impact. Bound to roar and shimmy, to howl and heal. A damn good band, this one. If you don’t believe it, start around two minutes and ten seconds into “Long Way Down.” That’s the stuff, right there.
“When I’m writing a song, it’s not about the hot licks, it’s about the voice and how it can be showcased from song to song,” says musician Jeff Austin. His focus is on transporting his audience by way of his vocal: “It’s the direct communication with the crowd — not just asking them how they’re feeling, but bringing something out of them.” For Austin, the act of speaking to people through his art really means using his voice.
The career of the Colorado-based artist has already seen him break through jam and bluegrass scenes, play stages from The Fillmore Auditorium to Red Rocks Amphitheater, and outdoor events like Telluride Bluegrass Festival and Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, among many others. But with the launch of his solo career in 2014, Austin is now building on the foundations of previous ventures while honing his own sound and charting new courses.
“I’ve learned a lot from the people I’ve played with,” says Austin who has shared stages with such luminaries as Del McCoury, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Earle Scruggs, Jon Fishman, and Phil Lesh. And it’s artists such as these who have helped crystalize Austin’s idea of what he wants to do as he moves forward with his eponymous project. “From both the rock side and the bluegrass side,” he explains, “I’ve learned a lot about song structure, solo ideas, playing with guts, and being who you are.”
Although he considers the Jeff Austin Band his primary focus, the mandolinist and singer is also known for embracing collaborations. In 2004, he released a full-length album with Chris Castino (The Big Wu) that featured guest appearances by Noam Pikelny, Darol Anger, and Sally Van Meter. Just two short years later in 2006, Austin teamed with Keller Williams and Keith Moseley to record a live album of bluegrass takes on Grateful Dead covers. The project, released under the name Grateful Grass, benefited the Rex Foundation. And most recently, Austin revived 30db - his project with Brendan Bayliss of Umphrey’s McGee.
In truth, Austin only began playing the mandolin a few years before co-founding progressive bluegrass outfit Yonder Mountain String Band, a group with whom he parted ways in 2014. And, picking prowess aside, Austin has always considered his voice to be his first instrument. He was drawn to singing from a young age, pursuing musical theater in high school and college. That passion is still evident in his approach to song craft.
Austin draws from those varied roots and readily admits to still loving musicals, being fascinated by Madrigal singers, and tuning-in to a wide range of vocal powerhouses. He channels all of these influences into his solo career, while also seeking personal innovation. For his newest project, Austin sought out musicians on the cutting-edge of the acoustic and jazz music circles. Artists proficient in theory and technique, but not afraid to lend themselves to some “far-out arrangements.” The result is some of Austin’s most structured, yet exciting, compositions to date with an approach that fits within his own evolving journey and personal motto, "The work continues."
Although there is a strong undercurrent of momentum and innovation that course through Austin’s newest project, there is also a connection to the past with the bandleader revisiting selections from his back catalog. Offerings include “Dawn’s Early Light,” “Snow in the Pines,” and others dating back to the 1990s. What matters, Austin points out, is that those songs evoke strong emotional responses both from the audience and himself. Played by this new ensemble, those songs feel revitalized and fresh.
When it comes to dynamics and structure, Austin taps the variety of sounds and styles he's absorbed from theater, jamming, nearly twenty years of performance, and his love of experiencing live music as a fan. It’s that inner concert enthusiast that binds him to his own audience and a powerful exchange between the stage and the crowd. “I hope they take with them exactly what I hope they leave with us,” he says. “And that’s inspiration.”
Whether sharing stages with acoustic music royalty, crisscrossing the nation playing as a solo artist or performing high-energy, jaw-dropping sets at festivals, the reaction to Billy Strings tends to come in two varieties: “Who is this guy?” and “That kid can play!”
Raised in Michigan and based in Nashville, Strings — real name William Apostol — learned music from his father, who had learned it from his father, and his father before him. Maybe that’s why at 24, Strings’ songs, his articulation, his entire approach, sounds so authentic and steeped in tradition. Consider him the next in line of an Americana thread, not some upstart or bandwagon jumper.
While Strings’ profile as a guitarist and singer in the acoustic/bluegrass scene continues to grow, he has already earned some landmark achievements. He has been invited to play on stage with Del McCoury, David Grisman, Larry Keel, Sam Bush, Greensky Bluegrass, The Infamous Stringdusters, Leftover Salmon and more. He’s landed coveted slots at festivals like Pickathon, Merlefest, DelFest, High Sierra Music Festival, Grey Fox to name a few and he’s shared bills with popular touring acts Greensky Bluegrass, The Infamous Stringdusters, Yonder Mountain Stringband, Leftover Salmon, Cabinet and more. And the industry has taken notice: He just won IBMA 2016 Momentum Awards Instrumentalist of the Year for guitar, banjo and mandolin and was voted #1 in, scene tastemaker, Bluegrass Situation’s Top 16 of ’16.
The BALTIMORE SUN has called Caleb Stine the “lynchpin of the Baltimore folk scene.” Like his Baltimore home, Stine keeps the music honest– hardworking, genuine, and unafraid to tell it like it is.
To date, Stine has released over ten albums, scored music for films, acted Off-Broadway, gargled Sangria on the streets of Madrid, and played guitar with Vieux Farka Toure.
Larry Keel is described by music critics and reviewers as the most powerful, innovative and all-out exhilarating acoustic flatpicking guitarist performing today. Keel has absorbed the best lessons from his Bluegrass family upbringing, both sides deeply steeped in the rich mountain music culture and heritage of Southwest Virginia. From there, he has always integrated that solid musical grounding and natural-born talent with his own incomparable approach to playing amplified, acoustic guitar and composing original music. He’s also got a knack for choosing interesting and appealing material from all realms of music with guts, whether it’s a tune written by a fellow song-writer/musician friend, or a surprise cover from any number of musical acts all over the map. The combination is pretty irresistible, and has earned Keel the highest respect and billing among the top acoustic and jam rock musicians alive, and some now gone: Tony Rice, Chris Thile, Steve Martin, Tim O’Brien, Vassar Clements, Sam Bush, Del McCoury, John Hartford, Bill Monroe, Peter Rowan, and Danny Barnes to name a few. And his fierce, high-spirited energy also appeals to young rockers, jammers and alt-country pickers and fans who are equally drawn to Keel’s blazing guitar power, the deep rumbling voice, his earthy and expansive song-writing, and his down-home-gritty-good-time charm. Keel convenes and collaborates with JamBand and Rock giants Greensky Bluegrass, Infamous Stringdusters, Yonder Mountain String Band, Keller Williams, Jorma Kaukonen, David Nelson, Little Feat, Railroad Earth, String Cheese Incident, Fruition and Leftover Salmon, amongst others.
Keel has a variety of musical formats he presents throughout the year; look out for his core band The Larry Keel Experience (featuring award-winning and highly accomplished Jared Pool on mandolin and penetrating vocals, and wife Jenny Keel with her rock solid bass lines as well as tenor vocal harmonies), Larry Does Jerry (Keel performing the music for Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead), Larry and the Smokin’ J’s (featuring Jon Stickley, Jay Starling and Jared Pool), Keller Williams and the Keels, and steady swirl of pairings with Keel and Drew Emmitt, Andy Thorn, Danny Barnes, members of the Del McCoury Band, Steep Canyon Rangers, just to name a few. Of note for early 2017 is Keel’s top billing at New York’s Carnegie Hall, where he will headline along with Al Di Meola, Stefane Wrembel and Stochelo Rosenberg at the Django A Go-Go concert, celebrating Django Reinhardt’s influence on the world of guitar music.
Throughout his career, Keel has released 15 albums and is featured on 10 others. The most recent release, March 2016, is EXPERIENCED, an entirely original work that showcases Larry’s and banjo virtuoso Will Lee’s exceptional songwriting, singing and jaw-dropping instrumental performances, accompanied by Keel’s equally talented wife Jenny Keel on upright bass and harmony vocals. This Americana Radio charting album exemplifies the raw sophistication of Keel’s progressive acoustic style, and features musician-friends who appear as guests on various tracks of Experienced; the artists include Sam Bush, Del McCoury, Peter Rowan, Keller Williams, Jason Carter (Del McCoury Band), Mike Guggino (Steep Canyon Rangers) and Anders Beck (Greensky Bluegrass). Quotes about Keel and his music from these artists themselves capture the essence of what this album and Keel’s artistry represents:
“Larry Keel is a triple threat… songwriter, guitar player, entertainer. He can do it all.” — Del McCoury
“Larry is a true original, be it traditional, progressive, improv.. he does it all, and with such joy. I love jamming with Keel. Enjoy the music. Larry does.” — Sam Bush
“Larry is the yin and the yang.. he will break your heart with a waltz, but he can also scare the hell out of you in the next song. He plays on the edge.. no, strike that- he creates genius guitar solos while staring over the edge and laughing maniacally.” — Anders Beck, Greensky Bluegrass
For Keel the musical mission is always clear: to let natural ability, finely-honed skill, honest emotion and fearlessness connect the playing and singing to audiences, to entertain and to thoroughly enjoy the experience of creating and sharing in music.
When TROUT STEAK REVIVAL won the Telluride Bluegrass Festival Band Competition in 2014, they emerged on the roots music scene to listeners anticipating the often–heard dose of progressive bluegrass with a hint of jam. Their unique brand of mountain music stood out, though, and quickly the band caught the attention of fans and folk radio DJs alike. Over the last three years, the Colorado quintet has further refined its style and, with SPIRIT TO THE SEA, delivers a mesmerizing and soul-quenching array of original songs resonating with the finer points of folk and Americana. Produced by Chris Pandolfi of The Infamous Stringdusters, the new album is a reflection of the depth and honesty of songwriting that is possible when a trusting and encouraging band of friends grows together into a band of musicians.
With each individual contributing lead vocals and instrumentation to the band’s collaborate songwriting process, TROUT STEAK REVIVAL is more than a sum of its five parts. BEVIN FOLEY (fiddle), STEVE FOLTZ (guitar & mandolin), CASEY HOULIHAN (bass), WILLIAM KOSTER (guitar & dobro), and TRAVIS MCNAMARA (banjo) take turns singing lead and harmonies throughout the album, and such sharing of the vocal ensemble roles creates a diverse and satisfying blend of musical offerings to listeners. Most of the band members of TROUT STEAK REVIVAL originally hail from the Midwest, but their lives, their musical endeavors, and the band’s identity now hold roots in Colorado. Inspired by and embodying the popular live music scene in Denver and Boulder, TROUT STEAK REVIVAL is emerging as the quintessential Colorado band. Named by Denver Westword as “Best Bluegrass Band” in 2016 and 2017, and chosen by the State of Colorado to represent the culture of its citizens on a Today Show appearance, the band draws constant recognition for its wholesome message and down-to-earth sound.
To succeed, though, a band must grow, and SPIRIT TO THE SEA expands TROUT STEAK REVIVAL’S repertoire beyond Colorado bluegrass without leaving behind the communal nature of the band’s origins. The new album is more diverse and inviting than their past albums, rolling out the carpet for new fans with many different tones, vibes, and topics underlying the songs. Whether listeners are in search of a deep connection with lyrics or simply need a good melody to dance to, SPIRIT TO THE SEA provides a mix of music that is a pleasure to relate to. Songs crafted out of love, fear, heartbreak, wonder, joy, and freedom provide a glimpse into the soulful depth of the individual members of TROUT STEAK REVIVAL and hearken back to emotions all our own.
Formed in the Chicago area in 1975, The Special Consensus is a four-person acoustic bluegrass band with a repertoire that features traditional bluegrass standards, original compositions by band members and professional songwriters, and songs from other musical genres performed in the bluegrass format. The band has released 17 recordings and has appeared on numerous National Public Radio programs and cable television shows, including The Nashville Network and the Grand Ole Opry at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee.
International tours have brought the band to Canada, Europe, South America, Ireland and the United Kingdom. The Special C has appeared in concert with symphony orchestras nationwide and has brought an informative in-school presentation to schools nationally and internationally since 1984.
Band leader/banjo player Greg Cahill is the former President/Board Chair of the Nashville-based International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) and the former Board Chair of the Nashville-based Foundation for Bluegrass Music. He was awarded the prestigious IBMA Distinguished Achievement Award in 2011. The 2012 band release Scratch Gravel Road (Compass Records) was GRAMMY nominated for Best Bluegrass Album. Other band members include guitarist Rick Faris, bass player Dan Eubanks, and mandolin player Nick Dumas.
“Country Boy: A Bluegrass Tribute to John Denver” (the band’s 17 th recording, released by Compass Records in March of 2014) was honored in October 2014 by the International Bluegrass Music Association with two major awards: Instrumental Recorded Performance of the Year for “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” and Recorded Event of the Year for “Wild Montana Skies”.
Special C’s 18 th recording, “Long I Ride”, was nominated by IBMA in 2016 for three awards and was awarded Instrumental Recorded Event of the Year for “Fireball”. Special Consensus proudly celebrated its 42nd anniversary in 2017.
An acoustic band born in the land of tech innovation, Front Country was never going to be accepted as an authentic American roots band out of the gate. Cutting their teeth in progressive bluegrass jams in San Francisco’s Mission District and rehearsing in the East Bay, they learned to play roots music their own way, with the tools they had on hand. A mandolinist with a degree in composition and classical guitar. A guitarist trained in rock and world music. A bassist equally versed in jazz and bluegrass. A violinist with technique that could seamlessly hop between honky tonk and electropop. A female lead singer with grit and soul that was also a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter. In a wood-paneled country dive bar in the shadow of the San Francisco skyline, Front Country forged a sound hell bent on merging the musical past with the future.
This West Coast outfit was a loose collection of musical misfits until 2012 and 2013 when Front Country gathered around a single microphone at the RockyGrass and Telluride festivals, and won first prize in those prestigious band contests that once launched the careers of the Dixie Chicks, Greensky Bluegrass and the Steep Canyon Rangers. The contest wins bolstered their confidence in their unique mix of original songwriting, vocal harmonies and instrumental virtuosity, steeling their resolve to take a leap of faith and become a full time touring band.
With the release of their debut full-length album Sake of the Sound in 2014, Front Country began the nose-grinding work of making their name as a national touring act. Still based in the San Francisco Bay Area, they would trek the 6,000+ mile circle around the U.S. for months at a time, introducing themselves for the first time to every room that would have them. Thanks to the glow of their contest wins, festivals around the U.S. caught wind and invited them to play for their large audiences, giving Front Country a crucial first break. Old Settlers in Austin, MerleFest in North Carolina, Wintergrass in Seattle, Strawberry in California and Grey Fox in New York, all took a chance on the promising new band and solidified Front Country’s hold on the imagination of progressive-leaning acoustic music fans.
If there was any one song from their debut album that they all agreed they had never heard the likes of before, it would have to be the title track “Sake of the Sound”. A pop song with a rock arrangement, played entirely on acoustic instruments. It was almost as if bluegrass instruments had been unearthed 200 years from now in a time capsule, and were re-purposed to make post-apocalyptic modern pop music. Front Country has been drawn more and more into this peculiar aesthetic, writing and arranging songs that are simultaneously intricate, intense and infectious. They've been called “Roots Pop”: the past is discernible with a wink and a nod, and the future is here.
Front Country’s sophomore release Other Love Songs is their Roots Pop opus. A graduation from mere concept to a high-speed rail line traveling at breakneck speed with the listener able to walk to the back of the train and look out at a distant but constant glimmer of the past. While their ultimate goal is musical space exploration, the technology of Front Country’s sound has evolved significantly in their five short years as a band, all while maintaining a tool kit of wooden string band instruments. Like a carpenter building a rocket ship, there is a whimsy to Front Country’s perspective that takes an active, imaginative listener to appreciate. It’s not a sound based on current trends of what any mainstream audience has asked for, it is a new perspective looking to find a new audience. Creating one’s own audience from the ground up is never an easy path, but if successful, several decades later, the reward is worth the risk and the journey is its own reward.
Other Love Songs is Front Country’s first record relying on lead singer Melody Walker’s songwriting, first and foremost. With 8 of the 12 tracks penned by Walker, and the two instrumentals composed by mandolinist Adam Roszkiewicz, it is their most original body of work yet. Round out the intensely creative band arrangement style of guitarist Jacob Groopman, bassist Jeremy Darrow and five-string violinist Leif Karlstrom, and the synergy is electric. The two cover songs on the album are the poignant “Millionaire” by David Olney, and a swampy blues-rock reimagining of the Carter Family’s “Storms are on the Ocean”. All together, the majority of the songs are quite emotional in nature and tend toward relationship themes, sometimes with atwist, hence the title Other Love Songs.
The collection of original Other Love Songs on the album are “If Something Breaks”, “I Don’t Wanna Die Angry”, “Good Side”, “Undone”, “O Heartbreaker” and “Keep Travelin’”. These songs follow the lessons that everyone learns in their own personal evolution toward emotional maturity and vulnerability - in which all of us learn to break down toxic romantic fairy tales and write our own “Other Love Songs” that work for real people in the real world. Love works the best when we can accept ourselves and one another with all of our virtues and our flaws, and start creating our own unique path that works for us. Since music and love are borne of the same ether, it’s no surprise that Front Country’s musical path has taken the form of an “Other Love Song” all along, finding their own harmony that plays to the strengths of each member, and doesn’t worry about fitting into a mold.
Nourished by deep roots in the expansive canon of traditional American music, The Lonely Heartstring Band embodies the modern American condition—an understanding and reverence for the past that informs a push into the future. This multi-talented group of musicians is a classic Bluegrass quintet—always far greater than the sum of its parts.
Combining soulful instrumental virtuosity with soaring three-part harmonies, their growing repertoire of original songs and compositions showcases not only their considerable talents, but a dedication to meaningful roots-conscious music.
Since their beginnings in 2012, The Lonely Heartstring Band has been on the rise and shows no sign of slowing down. With their 2015 IBMA Momentum Award and their 2016 release of their debut full-length album on the legendary Rounder Records label, there is every reason to hope that they are at the front edge of a significant career.
Already they have generated a devoted following of music-lovers across North America, performing and headlining at major music festivals and historic venues from Western Canada to California, from Kentucky to New Hampshire. Whether it’s a festival stage, theatre, or intimate listening room, The Lonely Heartstring Band always delivers a dynamic, diverse, and heartfelt performance. Over the last three years of touring, the band has crafted shows that generate a genuine connection and bring crowds to their feet.
Eager to hit the road again in 2017, The Lonely Heartstring Band will continue bringing thoughtful, energetic, and memorable performances to audiences across the country and around the world.
The band released their debut CD, recorded at Echoes Recording Studio, in February 2012. The self-titled album featured five original tunes and five covers performed with Circa Blue style. Special guests Mike Auldridge on resophonic guitar and Chris Sexton on fiddle can be heard throughout the album.
In 2014 their sophomore effort, "A Darker Blue", was released to critical and audience acclaim. With guests Gaven Largent on dobro, Marshall Willborn on bass, and the return of Chris Sexton on fiddle, the band continued to refine their sound, showcasing their musical chops on original songs and covers. "A Darker Blue" held the radio charts for over a year, was #38 out of the top 100 albums for 2014 (Roots Music Report) and continues to receive airplay throughout the US and abroad.
IN 2016 the band released their third project, "Once Upon A Time" through label Orange Blossom Records. It was met with positive reviews and multiple radio chart action and the title cut "Once Upon A Time" charted at #11 on the Bluegrass Today Radio Charts. "Once Upon A Time, the latest release from West Virginia’s Circa Blue on Orange Blossom Records, is without question their most ambitious and artistically successful recording to date.....Once Upon A Time shows the steady growth of Circa Blue, marking their continuing claim to move into headliner status"-John Lawless Bluegrass Today
Laura Wortman and Kagey Parrish are celebrating their 9th year of touring full time as The Honey Dewdrops, having played stages and festivals far and wide in North America and Europe. With tight harmonies and an musical ensemble that includes clawhammer banjo, mandolin and guitars, the effect is to leave listeners with only what matters: the heart of the song and clarity over ornamentation.
After leaving their home base of Virginia and living on the road for 2 years, Laura and Kagey now call Baltimore, Maryland home and it's where they wrote and recorded their fourth full-length album, Tangled Country, released May 2015. Acoustic Guitar Magazine describes the set of songs as “a handcrafted sound centered on swarming harmonies and acoustic guitars that churn like a paddlewheel and shimmer like heat waves on the highway.” And like their stage performance, these songs rock and reel, and then they console you when you come back down.
The United States Navy Band Country Current is the Navy's premiere country-bluegrass ensemble. The group is nationally renowned for its versatility and "eye-popping" musicianship, performing a blend of modern country music and cutting-edge bluegrass. This seven member ensemble employs musicians from diverse backgrounds with extensive high-profile recording and touring experience in the music scenes of Nashville, Tenn., New York, New Orleans and more. In the tradition of country music, each member is a skilled performer on multiple instruments. The band utilizes banjo, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, fiddle, electric bass, upright bass, dobro, pedal steel guitar and drum set.
Formed in 1973 , the band has a rich legacy of notable alumni including Bill Emerson, Wayne Taylor, Jerry Gilmore, and Frank Sollivan. They have performed at the Grand Ole Opry, for Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and overseas in Stockholm, Nova Scotia and Beijing. With a fun-filled and family-friendly stage show, Country Current has been delighting its fans for over 40 years with their musical virtuosity and humor. A staple of the bluegrass scene, Country Current has shared the stage with music luminaries Rhonda Vincent, Dailey and Vincent, Mountain Heart, Little Roy Lewis, Third Time Out, The Lonesome River Band, Josh Williams, The Seldom Scene, J.D. Crowe, Doyle Lawson, Ned Luberecki, Chris Jones and many others. Country Current routinely performs at bluegrass festivals such as Darrington, Windgap, Gettysburg, Lake Havasu and Grass Valley. In 2011, Country Current became the first military band to perform at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.
Country Current performs regularly for the president, vice-president, the secretary of the Navy, the chief of naval operations, the chairman and vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff, the Master Chief Musician of the Navy and numerous other dignitaries. Reaching out to communities both locally and nationally, they regularly perform for veterans, elementary schools, and in support of our active-duty Sailors.
Bluestone derives its name from the blues in bluegrass music and the stone in the former Keystone band name. Bluestone formed two decades ago when Dick Laird (mandolin) and Carroll Swam (guitar & vocals), members of the southern York county band Keystone, joined forces with Dick's two sons, Heath (bass) and Jeff Laird (guitar), and veterans, banjoist Chris Warner, violinist Jon Glik,, and Dobro player Russ Hooper. This hard-driving veteran bluegrass band brings together musicians who have played with some of the best including Del McCoury, Jimmy Martin, The Franklin County Boys, Dave Evans, Frank Wakefield, The Country Gentleman, and others. Firmly grounded in traditional bluegrass, Bluestone's music incorporates gospel, country, blues, swing, and folk influences as well.
Mile Twelve is a fresh, hard driving young band beautifully walking the line between original and traditional bluegrass. Fast gaining recognition for their outstanding performances in bluegrass and folk circles, Evan Murphy, Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, Nate Sabat, BB Bowness and David Benedict write captivating songs and daring instrumental pieces from diverse influences. Banjo luminary Tony Trischka says, "Mile Twelve is carrying the bluegrass tradition forward with creativity and integrity."
Since their formation in the fall of 2014, Mile Twelve has quickly been on the rise. They’ve performed extensively throughout the U.S., Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, including sets at major festivals such as Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, FreshGrass Festival, Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival, and Joe Val Bluegrass Festival. Their music is in rotation on the Bluegrass Junction Sirius XM channel, and their rendition of the Stanley Brothers classic “Our Last Goodbye” was featured on a Spotify "Fresh Bluegrass” playlist. The band was the winner of the 2017 Momentum Award by the International Bluegrass Music Association, and in October 2017 released their debut full-length record “Onwards”, produced by Stephen Mougin.
"In recent years, Boston’s Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory have added extra fire to that city’s already churning cauldron of traditional string players. Out of this spicy soup jumps Mile Twelve, a group of five accomplished bluegrass musicians who write, sing, and play like the wind. Serious players who have serious fun, Mile Twelve is a group to watch in the coming decade." - Tim O’Brien
"Mile Twelve's instrumental skills reflect natural abilities enhanced by serious study of bluegrass tradition and a fearless desire to create fresh pathways. From the opening number of their new EP, it’s plain that their vocal skills are equal to their picking prowess. Their trio blend is as tight as it gets. Their duo and solo singing is equally praiseworthy. The arrangements often surprise with subtle twists and turns... delicious false endings, dropped beats, arco bass and fiddle duets, and on and on. Mile Twelve is carrying the tradition forward with creativity and integrity." - Tony Trischka
"Mile Twelve has Bluegrass’ best interests at heart. Really good songs that mean something, picking that makes you grin and twitch, plenty of scalp-zinging moments... what more could you ask for America’s best drivin’ music? I’d be fine sending this to aliens." - Darol Anger
Evan Murphy has been a creative force on guitar and voice in New England since he picked up the guitar at age 18 and began accompanying himself on traditional bluegrass songs. Raised in Milton, Massachusetts, Evan received a bachelors degree in Theater and Music at Boston College in 2012. During his four years there he played in a folk band and began songwriting. A year later he moved to New York City, where he formed a bluegrass quintet called Tenafly Rye that performed throughout the city. While he was in New York he studied bluegrass guitar and voice with Michael Daves and classical guitar with Jason Sagebiel, director of the New York City Guitar Orchestra. Now a resident of Boston again, Evan is sinking his teeth into its vibrant acoustic music scene and has been busy teaching, recording and performing throughout New England.
Native New Zealander, Catherine (BB) Bowness started playing the banjo at the age of 12 after hearing a friend play the beverly hillbillies theme song. A few years later, BB received the Frank Winter memorial award at the Auckland Folk Festival allowing her to travel to the USA, where she studied with banjo players Tony Trischka, Alan Munde and Noam Pikelny. In 2009, she became the first banjo player accepted to the New Zealand School of Music, graduating in 2011 with a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Perfomance. BB was selected to attend the 2013 Savannah Acoustic Music Seminar, studying with world-class artists such as Julian Lage, Mike Marshall and Darol Anger. She won first place at the 2015 Freshgrass Banjo Contest and currently keeps busy recording, teaching and performing throughout New England.
A graduate of the voice program at New York City’s renowned LaGuardia High School, Nate Sabat’s musical roots are in choral singing. He started playing bass just before he began at LaGuardia, and, years later, was accepted to the Berklee College of Music as an upright bass principal. There, he has made it a goal to delve into the thriving Boston acoustic music scene, inside and outside of Berklee. To date, he has performed, worked and studied with artists such as The New York Pops, Kronos Quartet, Eugene Friesen and Bruce Molsky. This winter, he was chosen to be one of sixteen young acoustic musicians to attend the Savannah Acoustic Music Seminar in April, and work with artists such as Bela Fleck, Mike Marshall, and Chris Eldridge. Since graduating Berklee, he plans to stay in Boston to continue to perform, record, and compose.
Bronwyn Keith‐Hynes is a Boston-based musician originally from Charlottesville, Virginia. Accepted on scholarship to Berklee College of Music at age 16, she graduated in 2013 with a Professional Diploma in Violin Performance and is fast gaining recognition for her fiddling across bluegrass and acoustic music circles. Bronwyn has performed with Peter Rowan, The Milk Carton Kids, Anais Mitchell and Tony Trischka, among others. In 2014 Bronwyn won first place in the Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship in Winfield, KS and in 2015 won first place in the Freshgrass Fiddle Contest. Bronwyn has been on staff for the last two summers at Berklee College of Music teaching string lessons at the Five Week Program. She also teaches throughout the year in Boston and world-wide via Skype.
Originally from Clemson, South Carolina, mandolinist David Benedict is a performer, composer, and instructor seeking to blend tradition and innovation through his music. In 2013, he graduated with a unique degree in mandolin music performance from Bryan College in Tennessee, where he studied with Grammy-nominated mandolinist Matt Flinner. Since then, David has played at venues, festivals and events across the southeast including Savannah Music Festival, the Greenville, South Carolina, TEDx Conference-sharing the stage with such musicians as Casey Driessen, Julian Lage, Mike Marshall, Tim O'Brien, Tommy Emmanuel, and others. After performing for two years as a member of the Nashville band Missy Raines & The New Hip, David is now based in Boston, MA playing full time with Mile Twelve and teaching mandolin lessons at home and abroad.
Mountain Ride was forged in the Great Valley of south-central Pennsylvania, for the simple need to play bluegrass. For these five friends, bluegrass is a necessity. Hailing from the new generation of bluegrassers, they tend to bring a unique flair to the traditional, and a progressive twist to the original. Mountain Ride is composed of Eric Avey (guitar and vocals), Scott Matlock (fiddle and vocals), Corey Woodcock (banjo), Chance Hurley (mandolin), and Kate Avey (bass and vocals). With years of experience under their straps and strings, they have found something new, something that can only be described as Mountain Ride.
"Haint Blue’s new self-titled EP delivers some of the best Americana-tinted pop you’ve heard this year—further driving home the notion that depth of feeling needn’t be sacrificed in order to create accessible string-based music." -The Public
"The chronicling of the lyricist's loss of faith is a remarkable work of poetry -- unvarnished in its apostasy, yet with a sensitivity and a beautiful melancholy over the intra-familial costs that makes it plain this is no mere adolescent revolt...The simple sound of the lyrics belies their force..." -G. I. Blanchard, Mudblood Catholic
"Beyond the well-written folk tunes and catchy songs, there is something deeper and more complicated behind the inspirations for the band. Their vocal harmonies are seamless and the energy they bring to live performances cannot be denied. They transition well from entertaining a packed venue to filming in a small studio with ease; they have a familiar rapport with each other that is engaging and inviting. But driving these songs are deeply personal stories that carry a certain sadness. The lyrics tell stories of struggles with faith, family, addiction, and the achievement of moving forward... This multifaceted structure to their music makes Haint Blue not just a successful folk band but a welcome addition to the scene as a whole." -BMOREhush.com
"The seven-strong group artfully amalgamates poppy beats with Americana roots and instruments, producing a sound akin to Shovels & Rope or Avett Brothers, but still apart in its context and tonal shifts. Haint Blue has layers of pain and living in its lyrics, wrapped carefully in cheery beats and twangy harmonics." -Jonathan Goodwin, Deli Magazine
Winners of the 2016 D.C. Bluegrass Union’s Mid Atlantic Bluegrass band contest in Washington D.C., winners of the 2015 Podunk Bluegrass Festival band contest in Hebron, CT, winners of the 2014 Watermelon Park Fest band contest in Berryville, VA, and winners of the 2011 Pickin’ In The Panhandle Bluegrass Festival band contest in Martinsburg, WV, Colebrook Road has become a standout string band, a bluegrass powerhouse made up of five individuals whose sum is more than the total of their talents.
From modest beginnings as a four-piece band, Colebrook Road now plays as a five-piece ensemble and has become a familiar name throughout the Mid Atlantic region. The band is composed of lead singer, guitar player, and songwriter Jesse Eisenbise, mandolinist and winner of the 2014 Watermelon Park Fest mandolin contest Wade Yankey, upright bassist and tenor vocalist Jeff Campbell, banjoist, bass vocalist, dobro player, and winner of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival banjo contest Mark Rast, and fiddler, baritone vocalist, and winner of the 2015 Deer Creek Fiddler’s Convention bluegrass fiddle contest Joe McAnulty.
In addition to award-winning members from an array of backgrounds, the songs performed are almost exclusively original compositions with varying themes. The band writes intricate and dynamic arrangements filled with both vocal and instrumental harmony that creates an interestingly modern, complex, and varied sound while still adhering to the larger bluegrass genre. Colebrook Road is a standout string band.
Following the 2012 release of their eponymous first effort, the group released their sophomore album, “Halfway Between,” on May 7, 2016. Like their first, the album features all-original vocal and instrumental songs- ten studio tracks, plus a bonus live recording from their contest win at the Podunk Bluegrass Festival.
The High and Wides play music inspired by days when lines blurred between bluegrass, old-time, country, boogie, blues, rockabilly and western swing. The band features three veterans of long-time MD bluegrass fixture Chester River Runoff.
Let’s face it, Philadelphia isn’t exactly known as the bluegrass music capital of the world. While the city’s thriving music scene is one of the best in the nation, Philly’s signature sound in the twenty-tens has much more to do with distortion guitars than banjos. That’s just one of many reasons that the chance encounter in 2014 between two Northern Liberties neighbors that led to the formation of Man About a Horse was so unlikely. Three years later, the band has blossomed into one of the area’s most exciting bands on the American roots music scene.
This quintet is known for its vocal harmonies–to which all five members contribute–its uptempo, high-energy sets, and its rock-solid, authentic songwriting. While bluegrass music is sometimes typecast as the sleepy, back porch sing-along, Man About a Horse infuses its music with flurries of sixteenth notes on banjo, fiddle, and mandolin that makes their shows hearken to bluegrass’ roots as dance music.
Put it this way: at a Man About a Horse show, the question isn’t if someone will don the band’s signature horse-head mask and dance-trot around the floor, but when in the set it will happen.
Each of the five Yankees in the band found their own unique avenue to bluegrass and acoustic roots music in their youths, and their paths didn’t cross until adulthood. As children of the 1990s, they also have pop music in their blood, and can’t resist re-interpreting modern popular music in an acoustic stringband context (Radiohead, anyone?), balanced with the fresh originals and ripping bluegrass standards that comprise their setlists.
Man About a Horse has performed at festivals around the northeastern U.S., and shared bills with the likes of Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, The Travelin’ McCourys, Danny Barnes, Donna the Buffalo, Wood & Wire, and many others.
Their debut album (“The EP,” 2015) earned national airplay and rave reviews. In spring 2017 they self-released their debut full-length album, which debuted at #11 on the Billboard Bluegrass chart.