Fruition Comes To Fruition On New CD

Fruition played in Columbus, Oh on February 10, 2018 at Woodlands Tavern. Fruition consists of Jay Cobb(guitar & vocals), Mimi Naja(guitar, mandolin & vocals), Kellen Asebroek(keyboards, guitar & vocals), Jeff Leonard(bass) & Tyler Thompson(drums). Based out of Portland, Oregon, they have just released a new CD titled “Watching It All Fall Apart” and are touring to support it. I had a chance to sit down with Jay before their Columbus show and we talked about many things including the new CD.

Tom Wickstrom: I’m sitting here with Jay Cobb Anderson from the band Fruition. They are based out of Portland, Oregon and have just released a new CD “Watching It All Far Apart”. Tell me about the new CD and the inspiration behind it.

Jay Cobb Anderson: Well, I guess the inspiration behind it is the usual thing but the album itself is really unique in the way that we did it. We worked with a producer named Tucker Martine, who’s worked with the Decemberists & My Morning Jacket and many others. Working with him was an amazing experience. The album’s inspirations stem from a lot of different kinds of longing, whether that be for love lost or being far away from love and there are also songs that don’t have anything to do with love on the record. FOMO is one of the non-love songs that is funny. I wrote it when I didn’t get invited to a party, so I wrote myself a song to make myself feel better about not getting invited to the party. It’s really unique to what we’ve done in the past mainly because of the production technique and the way we recorded it and working with Tucker Martine.

TW: I was listening to the 1st single off the new CD, “I’ll Never Sing Your Name” and it had a really cool psychedelic garage rock feel to it. I’ve only had the opportunity to hear snippets of the other songs. Are you playing all the new songs live yet?

JCA: We have been this tour & it has felt so good to finally do that. It always takes a long time from the inception of a song to demoing to recording to mixing. When you finally release it, you get to play all the tunes you’ve been working on. In the past like our last CD “Labor Of Love”, where the songs had already been played live for a while. Those were like catchup records, where you’re hurrying to get music out that you were already playing. This was exciting because we hadn’t played most of these songs live. Now we’re doing it and it feels great.

TW: Are the songs all transitioning well live?

JCA: They are and that’s been the interesting thing. The record before we had played a lot of the songs live already. When we went in the studio we pretty much knew what we wanted to do. This new CD has been the opposite, because we didn’t have any idea what it was going to be like, which was really exciting. I think it transferred really well.

TW: I see you recently hooked up with Lo-Hi Records.

JCA: We’re very stoked and proud to be with them. Nice! You’re wearing the shirt.

TW: Jim Brooks gave me the shirt and I had to tie-dye it.

JCA: That’s lovely. Good work.

TW: I was happy to see you get hooked up with them. I think they’re doing some good work over there.

JCA: We are very excited to be on board with them.

TW: Tell me about your songwriting process. Do you all write separately?

JCA: Yeah, we tend to all write separately. I think each members process is different in some ways but similar to many of the ways that most songwriters write. For me, I like to stay writing. I write a lot whether it’s just blips of ideas I have or poetry or just a stream of consciousness type of writing. I’m constantly working on songs and coming up with melodies and recording them as voice memos on my phone type of deal. There’s 3 different kinds of songwriting: Music 1st then words, words 1st then music or the holy grail type you hope for, which is where the heavens open up and the song falls into your lap. It all comes at once.

TW: As a band, you’re very socially conscious and not overly political, but you do stay on top of today’s issues. Do you interject that into your writing?

JCA: I have been doing a lot of that lately. It’s tricky. We live in a crazy time and I think all of us in the band, the songwriters in the band, we want to be more socially conscious and outspoken about our thoughts and beliefs. We want to do it in a way that doesn’t cause more separation, but will bring more people together. That’s what I see in this day and age especially in America where there’s this wedge that’s been put between us for years & years. That’s a scary thing because we need to remember that we are all Americans and we can figure this stuff out. Whether we agree or disagree with each other, there’s a way of going about it diplomatically. The way things have been going, I think it’s funny the way people talk to people way left and how they are shutting out anyone who voted for Trump or something like that. We need to talk to each other. We need to discuss those things. We need to learn from each other instead of….

TW: Throwing hand grenades?

JCA: Exactly. Pushing that wedge in. That’s the tricky part. There are times you want to come out & say “Fuck Trump”, but that’s not really the true root of the problem. The main point is to not separate, but to bring together. I think we’re going to release an EP in a few months that has some social commentary on it. Hopefully those songs will get people thinking in a good way.

TW: Fruition plays 150+ shows a year and your live shows always kick the energy level up a ew notches. How do you keep the momentum going from night to night?

JCA: I don’t know. We just do it. It’s crazy. When we’re at a place like Woodlands Tavern tonight and you’re releasing a new record, it’s definitely a lot easier. Some of the last tours before we released this new record were a bit more difficult because you’ve been playing the same stuff you’ve been playing for a long time. You have to inject that energy. When you get new material, that helps a lot. If people show up for the shows, we get energized.

TW: Do you vary your setlist every night?

JCA: We write a new setlist every night.

TW: How do you determine that?

JCA: We just do it off the cuff. We sit in the green room, hang out, talk it over & try to make it interesting and that brings the energy levels up & down in the ways that we want. In some places the audience is more raging, so you can really throw down the rockers more. Some places we can do more gentle stuff because it’s more of a listening crowd.

TW: Obviously there’s a difference between a festival show and a show like tonight. Do you feel more compelled to play all the hits when you’re at a festival.

JCA: Yes. We say nothing but the hits for those hour long festival slots.

TW: I just read where Elephant Revival is taking a hiatus. They were always one of my favorite bands to watch you jam with together. You always seemed to have a great time collaborating with each other.

JCA: Definitely. We just got done having Dan Rodriguez open up for us on a handful of shows. Last night in Chicago was his last night with us.

TW: You should have brought him with you.

JCA: I know. We tried to talk him into it.

TW: Who else do you guys feel comfortable jamming with?

JCA: There’s so many. I guess when it comes to bands that are on the festival circuit, it would definitely be Greensky Bluegrass & Leftover Salmon, the Infamous Stringdusters, the California Honeydrops, our friends the Shook Twins & Jon Stickley Trio. All of those guys are like crazy.

TW: Is there someone out there that you’ve been trying to get together & jam with that you haven’t had the opportunity yet?

JCA: 1st off I forgot to say Larry Keel, because it’s really fun playing with Larry. Someone I’m dying to play with? I don’t know if I ever think of it like that. I just go with the flow. I guess if it came down to the dream scale of things, I would love to jam with Paul McCartney or a Stevie Wonder but that’s like crazy talk.

TW: Is there any kind of a story you can share about the band or this tour?

JCA: A story about the band. It’s hard to pick things out because it all seems to blur together on the road. We did 2 nights at the Ogden Theater in Denver for our CD release. They were amazing big shows and we had my buddy, Rayland Baxter open up. I love his music. I love his songs.

TW: I have one of his CDs. I gave it to my 89 year old dad to listen to. My dad loves Americana & Bluegrass music. He’ll either tell me “it’s alright or that’s a good one. You can burn that one for me”.

JCA: Oh yeah?

TW: When I shared the new Stringdusters & Greensky CDs, he thought they were ok, but he loved the Rayland Baxter CD.

JCA: That guy is….we get along really well and the 1st time we met we really connected. I sat in with him once before but this time at the Ogden I got to sit in with him. We played one of my favorite songs of all time that he wrote called “Yellow Eyes”. I got to do the main lead guitar part, which was super fun. That was a great thing that happened on this tour that I was really stoked about, having Rayland on board.

TW: It was nice getting back to Strings & Sol again this year. Wasn’t it?

JCA: Oh yeah

TW: I hope to make it back next year.

JCA: I know. We missed you.

TW: Someone wanted me to ask you about your red pants and where you got them.

JCA: Hahahaha. What do you want to know? It’s funny. When I turned 19, I was living in Idaho, which was where I was from. My best bud’s cousin started collecting vintage clothes from estate & yard sales & thrift stores. He was taking all these vintage clothes and driving it to Portland and selling it to all the vintage clothing outlets. Once we got wind of this, he invited us to his basement and said we could have anything for $5 each. Pants, shirts, coats & boots. That’s when I started figuring out the style that I like and part of that was really funky pants. I’ve always liked funky pants, but when I was in high school, I don’t think I ever attempted anything like that. To have vintage clothing in my best friend’s cousins basement, where we could go through things, was when I got my 1st pair of red pants. There have been a few since. I’ve always liked funky pants & part of being a performer is you have to stand up on stage and people have to look at you. So it’s nice to be able to dress in a way that you like & that you want to even though it might be a little loud. When I 1st started doing the red pants thing and when we moved to Portland, we were playing on the street a lot. We were wearing bright colored clothes and moving around a lot. You’re trying to get people to give you money because you’re broke. I don’t think there was ever a thought that I must have red pants. I just like them.

TW: That’s all the questions I have. Is there anything else you want to get out or say?

JCA: No. Hopefully people will hear the CD when we come to your hood & come check us out at a show. You might be surprised at what you hear. I’ve been getting a lot of that lately, because we’ve been called a bluegrass band a lot. I won’t say we are or ever have been but we’ve definitely dabbled. We’re definitely turning more rock & roll, at least with this record. Who knows what will happen for the next record. We’ll be back to….

TW: Hip-hop?

JCA: Yeah (laughing) or metal.

TW: Cool. Thanks for your time.

JCA: Thanks.


Peter Rowan: Changing Genres & Reinventing Bluegrass

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Peter Rowan after his solo acoustic performance at the Suwannee Roots Revival 2017. We talked about his spiritualism, new music and many other things. Through the years, Peter has played with Bill Monroe and Old & In The Way and many, many others and although his music is mostly rooted in bluegrass music, he has also reinvented himself with Reggae, Country & other versions of his songs as well. Later this evening Peter will be performing his album Dharma Blues with the musicians that he recorded it with including Hot Tuna’s Jack Casady (featured above w/Peter Rowan performing Dharma Blues). Here’s the interview:

Peter Rowan: Who are you with?

Tom Wickstrom: I have my own blog called Tie Dyed Tunes and I also contribute to Jamwich Magazine.

TW:  First off, you opened your set with My Aloha, a cut off your recent CD of the same name. The first time I have seen that CD was here at Suwannee.

PR: Well, there’s no place to put it anymore. It’s on Amazon & a few other places. We’re going to do a feed off my Instagram onto Facebook. My daughter is going to organize that so that will be announced some time in the future.

TW: I’d like to hear more about that. I did have a chance to sit down with your brothers, Chris & Lorin at Hickoryfest. It was such a beautiful setting in the Poconos and was one of those festivals that I will try to go to for years to come. Your brothers told me that the three of you are working on a Christmas album. Will that be coming out this year?

PR: No, it won’t be out this year. We do get together once a week to sing together though.

TW: You mentioned a new project you are working on. Can you elaborate?

PR: Yes, bluegrass. That’s gong to come out on Rebel Records. I guess it’s the same old story about how we get the word out on it. We’ve got to use social media and announce it on a broader scale. Music can be found, but as far a doing an ad with point-of-sale but as far as getting everywhere, that’s the challenge. Somewhere between Instagram & Facebook.

TW: I consider you a true renaissance man in the way you have reinvented & reinterpreted your music many times over. Crucial Reggae is one of my favorite reinterpretations. How has your relationship or spirituality through Buddhism influenced your music?

PR: It’s given me enough clean energy to keep going. Buddhism is the kind of thing that makes it hard to articulate that thing that you don’t know. It’s all how you relate to your own practice and for me it’s how that stuff seeps over into the music because a lot of the practice I do is with Tibetan music. Westerners quest and there’s a lot of cultural things to work through. In the Tibetan tradition there can be a danger of a lot of cultural disguise. So finding the essence and I do think it keeps you alive. If you’re on the path, it does keep you strong in that questioning mind of devotion. It’s a precious thing. Basically, to live in this world having a good heart with all the virtues of all the religions like forgiveness & compassion. That’s the basis. The Buddhism kind of takes off on a different level where it starts to look at phenomena. Everything you see, hear, touch, taste & smell through your five senses is examined as…rather be fixated that everything is in a state of flux. It may take 1,000 years for something to change or it may just take the life of a tree, but then again time seems to be speeding up now. This is a big phenomena it seems. It could be that our perceptions through the digital media is speeding things up. It does seem like there are more fires & hurricanes happening now. Like right now! That’s sort of prophesizing the signs of the degeneration of what they call the last part of the Kali Yuga, the last part of this eon , which is still going to go on for at least the next half million years or so. I think we are getting closer to the sun, which is part of the heat & environmental disasters and whether directly related to humans misstep or not, we’ve kind of lost track of the essential healths for the planet. It’s definitely making a difference on global warming thing.

TW: What has music taught you about yourself?

PR: I don’t use drugs. I mean I did for a long time. I’d just wallow in the music to take a puff and kind of go into a state where everything seems very musical & I would write a lot of songs. I don’t do that anymore and I haven’t for a number of years. My thing now is sort of with patience and it is related to the Buddhist practice of trusting the natural mind. Just trusting instead of panicking to do this, do that and change something to make our lives better. Just trust your natural mind and that can take the form of some sort of stillness that I think is important. Basically, taking a nice big breath and relaxing. We tend to do that but everything is moving so fast. Even the machines are moving faster. The weather changes are moving faster and it’s hard to put the breaks on and just really sit down and really let things be for just 40 minutes. That’s a big gift of a practice. So, the very first virtue that is practiced is formally considered a gratitude, but in practicality it’s actually patience. The Bodhisattva virtue means someone who lives with a good heart. Compassion. They are always a step back from pushing themselves first. It’s sort of anti-career, but that’s a commitment I made a long time ago. That my music would be healing and I’m seeing that now. Just like tonight’s Dharma Blues performance, because the whole thing is just a healing prayer.

TW: So you try to leave politics ad all the crazy things going on in the world out of the equation?

PR: Yeah, but it’s so crazy in terms of its inception in history. I’ve got a sun I’ve never put on a record called “The Slave And Opium Trade”. It’s a valid historical point that these people were running sugar cane and rum to New England from Jamaica and distilling in Boston. They would then take the rum to England to get more money, then they would sail down the coast of Africa to pick up textiles and slaves and then bring them to Jamaica. In terms of cause and effect, it was a big part of a cause of something, but a deeper cause is really just the madness of the human ego. In those days not everyone was doing then and the Buddhist teachings were going all over the world. I grew up in an area where the beginnings of Buddhist teachings were starting to show themselves in Massachusetts with the Transcendentalists. Buddhism was showing up among the literati: Thoreau, Emerson and those guys. So that was an atmosphere or something like that when I was growing up. That and the American Indian thing too. I seem to have a large perception of residues of former inhabitants. I don’t know why but I became very interested in that and the names of the local roads that came from Indians. Then I left home to follow that trail out in the west. The southwest and the land of the Navajo and then I ended up in California. I’m back out there now. I really like it, bit’s a little dangerous right now because of wildfires.

TW: Are your brothers anywhere near the fires?

PR: I just talked to Chris. He just celebrated his 70th birthday and he’s okay. Nothing bad happened to them.

TW: How is your good friend, David Nelson? Have you talked to him?

PR: People have talked to David. He’s almost ready to get out and play, but he’s still too weak. He’s still undergoing treatment.

TW: One last thing, do you have a good David Nelson or Jerry Garcia story that you can share?

PR: I remember one time coming off the stage with Garcia up in Oregon. There seemed to be a little mumbling going on in the dressing room by the rest of the band about how this didn’t go right or this was all wrong. I just remember him looking at them with the eyes of a tiger: giving no thoughts. Let it go. So he definitely had that presence. There are dangers along the path. Jerry seems to be everyone’s favorite psychedelic explorer and I think it’s unfortunate for that to be looked upon as his highest achievement. He was a very compassionate guy, but by becoming attached to non-attachment, that was a pitfall. His heart was in the right place, for sure. Old “Buzz” Garcia (chuckles). He was a great guy. Any other questions?

TW: That’s all I have. I appreciate your time Thank you very much.

PR: Alright.

TW: I’m looking forward to the Dharma Blues show tonight.

PR: Thank you

Go to to purchase his music

Here’s video of Peter Rowan performing Dharma Blues at the 2017 Suwannee Fall Roots Revival.


Here’s a video of Peter performing one of his most recognized songs called “Midnight Moonlight”.

Danny Barnes: Banjo’s Renaissance Man

Danny Barnes is an American banjo virtuoso. Born in Texas in 1961, Danny was drawn to the banjo from seeing Grandpa Jones on Hee Haw and John Hartford on the Glen Campbell Show. Other family members introduced him to delta blues & punk and other musical genres. He graduated from the University of Texas in 1985 with a degree in audio production. He formed the Bad Livers in 1990 and they received attention in the alt-rock-country scene in Austin. Since then, Danny has played with just about everyone on the bluegrass scene and has produced & released several albums on his own. I had a chance to speak with Danny briefly in between sets at the 2017 Festy Experience this past October.

Tom Wickstrom: I’m speaking with Danny Barnes. first off, I wanted to talk about the new album. Erin gave me a copy back in March and it’s been played many times since. Can you tell me the story or inspiration behind “Stove Up”?

Danny Barnes: My banjo hero since I was a kid was this guy named Don Stover. He’s from West Virginia and he had a really interesting record in the 70’s called “Things In Life” and I got a hold of a copy of that when I was a young man. I appreciated it because he fronted a band and wrote songs and could play various styles of banjo. A lot of banjo players I was listening to at the time were in bands, but he fronted a band. He was a really good singer & he wrote these great songs. I just loved his recordings. I never got to meet him but he’s always been my sort of hero for banjo. I wanted to do a record that was sort of a homage to him. I didn’t go back and learn a bunch of his stuff note to note, but I play quite a few of his pieces on the record. I just wanted to talk about Don Stover really. That’s where the record came from. My buddy Nick Forster produced it. Jason Cater from the Del McCoury Band plays on it and Mike Bub’s on bass and my friend Chris Henry played mandolin. It’s the first time I have done an acoustic banjo type of record. I’ve always considered myself a songwriter, so I had never done that before.

TW: Now when you’re playing the acoustic or bluegrass style, is that different from the other styles and how does it vary?

DB: Yeah, this was like a different hat for me. Normally I present songs and I use the banjo to get the songs across. In that world it’s sort of like the songs serve the banjo a little more and I had never really done an acoustic banjo album before, so it was different for me.

TW: I understand you won the prize for banjo excellence back in 2015. What was it like receiving that award from Steve Martin?

DB: Yeah, it’s his concept. I was stunned. I’ve always considered myself the underdog and there’s a board of banjo players like Alison Brown, Tony Trischke, Bela, JD Crowe, Steve Martin himself and Pete Wernick. They are all phenomenal banjo players & I love their records. It meant a lot that they would make a positive comment to me like that.

TW: When you are writing songs and with what’s going on in the world today, are you a political guy? Do you try to get your feelings out in the songs you write or try to stay away from that?

DB: Well, I’m not really political in a sense. Basically, what I’m doing is making movies of my songs for me. One of my mentors was John Hartford and he mentioned that to me he considered his songs movies also. A record is like a movie and the songs are actually scenes of the movie and the characters in the songs are like characters in this movie that come & go. So that’s the way I structure my records. To me the fundamental issue is the spiritual realm rather than the political realm. I think that the material proceeds from the metaphysical in a sense, so I try to address the metaphysical realm because I feel it’s the crust of the biscuit as it was. Metaphysics rather than economics or politics.

TW: What’s your songwriting process?

DB: Typically what I do is carry around a note pad & write down all these snippets. They could be lyrical ideas, titles or just concepts for a record. All these little things & then I record. I carry a little recorder too and I will record these bursts. Every now & then I’ll go through them & sort them out & I’ll make up a little icon for them. I figure out what kind of goes together and then I’ll put them together. I create these tiny building blocks. I edit them, put them together & then finish them. I’m in the middle of writing a new record right now.

TW: That was going to be my next question. What do you have coming up next?

DB: I’m working on a new record of songs. I’ve got maybe 20-25 things finished. I have this book I’m working on too. I don’t want to talk about it too much, because I don’t want to give it away, but I’m working on this kind of a novel. Mainly though, I have a bunch of songs finished. I’ll have to have a record out some time next year.

TW: What has music taught you about yourself?

DB: That I have value. It’s tough to feel you have value in the world. It can be sort of dark, with the stuff that’s on TV and in the newspapers and stuff like that. It’s all happening. It’s not an inaccurate assessment. This stuff is actually happening. Music has also taught me the value of other people too. A lot of stuff comes to you through others. If you get in a bad attitude, you sometimes forget that. You get down on yourself & ergo other people.

TW: Any chances of a Bad Livers reunion?

DB: I don’t think Mark’s health is good right now. I don’t think he’s doing too good. Maybe if he gets to feeling better. We did about 6 shows together a few years back. We played hard together for about 10 years. We worked super hard and you just sort of had to catch it then, because that’s when it was.

TW: I understand you are celebrating 20 years of sobriety.

DB: Actually, I was 16 years sober in December.

TW: Is that a tough thing when you’re on the road & touring?

DB: I think that it’s not right for everyone. It’s not like I’m one of those persons that thinks everyone should be sober. It’s not for everybody, but I feel there’s a certain amount of clarity you get from your reality, the nature of things that I sort of like obfuscated or tilted or something like that. I think that’s what they are there for a sense but it seems like it’s such a part of our society that it’s worth it to take a fresh look at things. It’s not for everybody.

TW: I’ve seen you at a lot of festivals collaborating with a lot of different people. I’ve been to Northwest String Summit 3 times and everywhere I see you getting up with everyone to play. Do you have a go to collaborator that you love to get together with to jam & hang out?

DB: My friend David Grisman is probably my best jammer buddy. He lives up here beside me & we pay a lot. I don’t see him much professionally, but he lives by my house.

TW: When you tour, it’s usually by yourself?

DB: Yes. Usually by myself.

TW: What was it like getting out there & doing a Jeff Austin Band Tour?

DB: It was fun. It was great being in a band and being around a bunch of guys was fun, because you sort of had this club thing going. You feel like you have a little gang when you go some place. Usually I’m by myself & it’s easier to get overwhelmed by myself. When you come to a big festival like this many times you don’t know a whole lot of people. You have people coming up and talking to you all the time and saying things to you. Some times it’s an overload of information, so it was fun to hang with the guys in the band. I just got to the point that I had my songs and I needed to take care of them. At some point, I had to go back to that.

TW: I’m friends with Mike Kaiz and we were backstage at the John Hartford Memorial Festival this past summer. We were just chatting & he shared a video that you had sent him of yourself playing banjo in the background, but Dave Matthews face was on the video making all kinds of weird expressions. I really enjoyed that.

DB: I have a lot of fun putting together things like that. Mike’s a great guy.

TW: Well, that’s all I have for today. Is there anything else you want to talk about?

DB: Not for now.

TW: Thanks for your time.

DB: You’re welcome

Here’s a link Danny Barnes’ set at Hartfordfest in 2014 on YouTube:



The Steep Canyon Ranger’s Graham Sharp Talks About The New CD With Steve Martin & More

The Steep Canyon Rangers are a bluegrass band out of Brevard, NC. They have been around since 2001 and many know them as the back-up band for entertainer Steve Martin on occasion. They just released a new CD with Steve Martin called “The Long Awaited Album”. I sat down with the Rangers banjo player, Graham Sharp prior to their performance at the Suwannee Fall Roots Revival at the beautiful Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park and we chatted about the new CD and other stuff.

Tom Wickstrom: I’m here chatting with Graham Sharp, the banjo player for the Steep Canyon Rangers. 1st off, congratulations on the new CD that just came out. I saw your performance with Steve Martin on the Today Show. In fact, I sent a message to Nicky (Sanders-fiddle player) before that performance wondering if he was going to keep the cameramen busy bouncing around the stage, but he stayed in one spot. Made it easy for them.

Graham Sharp: We’ve been through that with Steve (Martin) a few times before. It had been a while since we had done the late night thing or the TV Show things and it makes for a long day. You get up at 3am or 4am and go to the Today Show. They film the Colbert show about 3pm so it makes for a long & exciting day.

TW: Tell me about “The Long Awaited Album” with Steve Martin.

GS: Over the past few years, some of the songs on the record have been around for a while. Steve had entertained the idea of a record and at some point doing it. I guess he approached Peter Asher about doing it and what kind of record they were going to do. Peter’s thing isn’t exactly bluegrass. He’s more like what Steve did with Edie Brickell and that sort of thing. I think that’s what Steve & Peter were imagining for it, but once the bulk of the tunes came around, Peter said: “Let’s make this a bluegrass album with the Rangers”. That was really cool. Obviously it’s Peter’s record and he can call anyone he wants to play on it. We have a chemistry with Steve. We kind of get his quirkiness. We just have a real rapport with him and it makes a difference when you’re in there making an album and sitting around in a circle recording something. It’s good to have that history together.

TW: I’m sure it’s very quirky working in the studio with Steve and it’s always interesting, I assume?

GS: Yeah, the whole thing with Steve is that he is constantly working. He’s always in that mode, so when you’re in the studio, it’s kind of like being backstage with him. He’s always wanting to work on songs or talk about stuff. We did a show with him at the IBMA Awards a couple of weeks ago. We must have rewritten the setlist with Steve. You know, his portion of the set was 7 songs and he must have rewritten it at least 10 times over the month leading up to the show because it’s always on his mind and he never turns that off necessarily. Whether its music or he’s thinking about his play, he keeps going. He’s got a play opening up on Broadway and he’s probably working on a book and who knows what else.

TW: the last Steep Canyon Ranger’s CD was “Radio” a couple of years ago. Are you working on a new Steep Canyon Rangers only CD?

GS: Yes, we made one in July. Joe Henry produced the CD. We didn’t know anything about him. Basically, his idea was for us to set up in a room and go for everything like vocals, harmonies, instruments & rhythm. We just did the whole thing and we did the record in about 3 1/2 days. It was awesome. I think it was the coolest recording experience I ever had. That’s what you do as a band. You stand there and play together. I can understand why you would pull it apart and work for certain sonic perfections when you have the ability to do it in the studio, but there’s something to be gained from the way we recorded this record. That CD will be out in January.

TW: Does everyone write songs in the band? What kind of songwriting process do you have?

GS: I think I have like 8 songs on the new CD. I wrote 3 of the songs with Sara Siskind, who is awesome. Charles, our bass player, wrote a few songs and we did a Bob Dylan cover. We weren’t planning on doing the cover at all but Joe asked us after we had 8 or 9 songs in the can if we did any cover songs. No, but Woody kind of had this one tune in his head and it seems to make a lot of sense. It was a neat recording process. We just kind of went in with a handful of songs that we figured we’d go for and then just really built it out from there rather than really knowing what songs we were going to do. It was more like what do we need and what can we work with. It ended up just like plucking a few songs out of the air that had kind of been around the band in little pieces & bits for a few years & what not. Let’s try this. This would fit. The Bob Dylan song fell into that category.

TW: When you write, are you writing with a contemporary mind? With things that are going on in the world today, do you put those or try to include those things or leave them out of your songwriting?

GS: I really don’t decide on it one way or the other. I think it all kind of informs every thing. I don’t try to leave it out and I don’t try to be too overly political, but sometimes I fail.

TW: So, tell me about Graham. Did you go to college for music and what’s your story prior to the Rangers?

GS: I went to college but not for music. I went to college in Chapel Hill and met the guys in the band there. I was a literature major and taught school for about a year out of college, while trying to do the band at the same time. It was kind of like impossible. It ran me pretty ragged, so once 3 of us had graduated, we decided to move up to the Asheville (NC). A couple of the guys were from Brevard and by then it was like 4 of us and Lizzie Hamilton, the fiddle player. That was probably about 2001 and we’ve been gradually chiseling away at it over time. Nicky Sanders, our current fiddle player has been with us since 2004. He was the young man in the band but then we got a drummer about 3 or 4 years ago that a couple of the guys grew up with in Brevard. So, they’re all hometown buddies. You sit down with the 3 of them and they’ll start talking old boy this and what’s his name that and that’s so fucking boring. That’s the story of the band in a nutshell.

TW: What do you do on your down time?

GS: I like to lay pretty low at home. I’ve got 2 kids, an 8 & an 11 year old and my wife. I usually end up doing a lot of shit in my yard just because I like to be out doing physical stuff. Whether that’s building a fence or deck or patio or whatever. Always looking for my next project. Everything at my house is just going to be a freaking collection of shacks at some point, but that’s all right. So yeah, I spend a lot of time with my family when I’m at home & try to write in the mornings when they’re at school. I’ve found few people in the Asheville area to get with and do that.

TW: Any other projects you’re working on?

GS: No, not really. Right now, so much of my time is spent with the Rangers, that I try to spend the rest of my time with my family. We’re doing a CD with the Asheville Symphony that we’re going to do soon which we hope will have some special things on there. If they turn out, it will be super bad ass. I can’t tell you right now.

TW: I see you are involved with the Mountain Song Festival. Can you tell me more about that?

GS: The Mountain Song Festival is my baby, especially our guitar player. It’s for the Boys & Girls Club of Transylvania County. It has raised like 3/4 of a million dollars for them, which keeps them floating there. It’s got a great music program and many other things. We get to pick our bands and introduce our friends & fans to what we’re into. It’s a pretty laid back festival but it’s a good sit down in an amphitheater for a family oriented festival. It’s very small, only a few hundred or so. It goes great. Woody & John Felty, did you ever know Jupiter Coyote?

TW: I’m familiar with the band name but don’t really know their music.

GS: It was a band back in the day. So, Woody & John, it’s kind of their deal and they have it running great. At the end of 3 days of music & people, there’s like less than a truck load of trash to take to the dump. They do it really smart & really do it right. Give back. It’s a great thing for the community. My kids feel like they own the place. They run around & have a great time.

TW: What has music taught you about yourself?

GS: To be in the moment. To give your attention to the time that you are in. It’s easy to let a moment go by when you say, I saw this coming, I’ll do this again. I know how this goes & something like that. Or whether you’re like spending time with somebody and taking the time with the person you’re with at the moment you’re in. Yeah, same with music.

TW: Thank you very much. I appreciate your time.

GS: It was my pleasure.

Here are some links to some of the Steep Canyon Rangers songs:



EmiSunshine Packs A Lot Of Voice & Maturity As A 13 Year Old

While at the Festy Experience this past October, I had a chance to sit down with EmiSunshine. At just 13 years old, Emi has already made quite the name for herself.

TW: I’m chatting today with EmiSunshine. Let me start with the question that you probably get asked all the time. When did you first start playing or how did you get started in all this?

ES: I guess I really started singing when I was 4 years old. It’s been in my family for a long time. My great grandmother sang, my grandma sang and my dad sings. It’s kind of always been in my blood, When I was 4 years old I started singing with and doing harmonies with my grandmothers and after that I wrote my first song when I was 5 years old. It was called “My Time To Fly”. It was a gospel song. I was always drawn to gospel music because my grandmothers were in this group called “The Perfect Joy”. It was an amazing group and they would travel around the world and just sing their beautiful music to everybody. I always wanted to be a part of it. When I was about 7 or 8 years old, I told my mom that my stage name was going to be EmiSunshine and no one really thought that much about it. It was just something little for me to do. They knew that I was able to sing but not what I’m doing now. Just after that I formed my band and called it “The Perfect Joy Revival”. I guess that I wanted to be doing what they were doing, what my grandmother did. I always wanted to follow in their footsteps. After a while we got a drummer and a really awesome merch lady and they both still travel with us. My Aunt Crystal is actually our merch lady and she said we needed a better name for the band. She said that if we wanted to go farther and sing more than just gospel music, then we needed a better name for the band. She said: “How about EmiSunshine & the Rain”? After that, we’ve been touring ever since. We were playing at this flea market one day when I was about 9 years old. Someone took a video of me performing and it went viral. We had gotten invited to play at this flea market and since it was the winter months, we really had no where else to play. This woman, her name is Shauna, she took a video of us playing inside this little guitar shop at the flea market. It went viral and we got to go on the Today Show and play at the Grand Ole Opry. We’ve been touring ever since.

TW: Do you mostly tour in the summer and do you attend school regularly?

ES: I’m home schooled to it makes it easier for me to tour every day.

TW: A far as your songwriting goes, I heard you mention up on stage this weekend that you were trying to do more songwriting with other people. What is your songwriting process? Are you a music or words first person?

ES: With us, me & my mom, we kind of go with how the song wants to go. We never really try to rush into it. Either we have a song come to us or we don’t. We don’t try to push it. We always want to let it come to us and let it be natural like that. I guess that with my writing, some times the lyrics come first and some tomes the melody comes first. I guess usually the words come first, but some times it will go another way and it will just go crazy. We just want to be able to let the song be how it’s supposed to be. Let it be how it’s meant to be.

TW: I’m a big fan of killin’ songs and I see that you are too. I really like your “Tennessee Killing Song”. What’s the story behind it?: I wrote that after going to this really cool gig. We were sitting at a table at this nice little venue and the owner said: “Emi, We named a special drink after you for coming and playing here today”. It was called the “Tennessee Killing Song” in honor of me. That was so awesome that I had to write a song about it. We started writing it and it came out very smoothly. It was pretty easy to write, that one was.

ES: I wrote that after going to this really cool gig. We were sitting at a table at this nice little venue and the owner said: “Emi, We named a special drink after you for coming and playing here today”. It was called the “Tennessee Killing Song” in honor of me. That was so awesome that I had to write a song about it. We started writing it and it came out very smoothly.It was pretty easy to write, that one was.

TW: I definitely love my killin’ songs. One of my favorites is “Caroline”. Are you familiar with it?

ES: No. I am not.

TW: Definitely check it out. I think you’d like it. What do you do on your downtime? Do you get a chance to get out there and be with other kids your age and stuff?

ES: Yeah. When I’m at home, I have my best friend who comes and hangs out with me a lot. Whenever we’re at festivals and not close to home with down time, I love to hula hoop. I absolutely love to hula hoop, so that’s what I like to do with my downtime.

TW: So I should be looking for you hula-hooping in the crowd today?

ES: Probably

TW: You do some really great cover songs. Some of my favorites are “Ode To Billie Jo”, “Jolene” and “Sugaree”. How do you choose which covers to use and how much does your setlist  vary from night to night?

ES: I guess that I kind of let it go its own way. Usually we check out the venue when we first arrive and get a feel for the place. For our setlist, we check out the people, what they’re into and what kind of venue it is. There are a lot of hippie festivals, but there are a lot of bluegrass festivals, which can be very traditional. So you kind of have to set your setlist around the people. If they don’t like it, you can’t do much after that. We always try to check out the people first and see what they’re into.

TW: You have a new CD “Ragged Dreams”, that just came out. I really liked the songs “Sinners Serenade” & “Johnny, June & Jesus”.

ES: We’re getting ready to write with some very special people. I’m actually going to write with Jamey Johnson and a few other people that I’m really excited to write with. We haven’t really had a chance to write much lately, because we’ve been on the road so much and we haven’t had time for anything else. The last time I wrote was actually a few weeks ago. We had just wrote a new song. We haven’t really gotten it out there yet, but we’re going to pretty soon. A few weeks is actually a really long time for me, because we write pretty much all of the time. It’s always continuous.

TW: Well, it’s quite the family affair.

ES: It really is. My brother John plays mandolin for me. My mom just takes care of me and gets all my clothes ready for shows. She fixes my hair and makes sure I’m ready to do all the things I need to do. She’s always there for me if I need help with anything. My Auntie Crystal does my merchandise and she’s actually our road manager too. My Uncle Bobby plays drums & my dad plays bass also.

TW: You have some very cool outfits up on stage while emceeing & performing. Do you make those or how do you come about them?

ES: Most of the outfits are made by the woman who endorses us. Her name is Robin and she supplies us with most of our clothing. She runs “Magnolia Pearl Clothing Company” and she creates all of her clothes. She came up to us one day and said: “I create those clothes. I wake up in the middle of the night with a design in my head. I go write it down and then create it the next morning. You create your songs & I feel that we can collaborate together to make something really awesome. She let me start wearing her clothes and I love the way they feel and I love the way they look. So, Magnolia Pearl,

TW: Awesome. She does a great job. I really liked that one outfit that was multi-colored & long.

ES: I also thrift store shop a lot. The hat I wore yesterday and the outfit came from a thrift shop. You know, if there was a reward for having so many outfits for 1 festival, I might win it here, because we have set out 32 different for just 4 days at this festival.

TW: Does your clothes have its own trailer? (chuckling)

ES: No, but since I’m emceeing the main stage and performing, we laid out 32 different outfits for just about any occasion while I’m there.

TW: That is truly a lot. Now being that you are only 13, what has music taught you about yourself so far?

ES: Well, I guess it’s taught me to be selfless, in a way. When I was smaller, I’d go out to Market Square in Knoxville (TN), because that was my favorite place to busk and to go out and see people. I would go out there & I would sing my songs and I would see a lot of homeless people out there, I thought about that a lot. I had a good friend and his name was Keith and he was homeless. One year I decided to go out there and give out blankets & food & different things. I put on a little mini concert for them out there and that made me feel really good. Over the years, Keith has gotten himself a house. He’s gotten himself a job and is doing very good for himself and it makes me really glad that I kind of helped him in a way. He told me that he was really thankful that I helped him and that it kind of gave him a little hope that helped him pick himself up again. That made me feel really good inside. I thought that whether I make it in the music or not, I’m going to keep playing Market Square. I’m going to keep playing songs for the homeless and hand out blankets every year because I love it. This has taught me to be selfless. It has taught me to be a good person and its taught me to be happy.

TW: There’s a lot of crazy stuff going on in the world today. Do you try to voice your opinions through song?

ES: Not really. In a way, I just want to let that be. I want us all to be happy and get along. I feel like with God’s help, one day that will happen. That’s what I hope for.

TW: It seems like the songs that you are writing show maturity, insight & wisdom beyond your 13 years. It’s really amazing what you’re writing about.

ES: Those songs. I guess I have been around adults most of my life. I was taken out of school halfway through Kindergarten and put to home school. I have matured faster than most kids because of that. Because I was home schooled, I feel I got to see more & do more out there and learn more. That’s what it was like for me in that case and I guess I matured faster than most kids. I got to see more of what was going on in the world and what was going on in my surroundings. I said I need to do something about this. I need to write about it. I need to let this come out somehow. That’s how I wrote my first song, in a way.

TW: Well, keep doing what you’re doing. I had seen you on YouTube and the videos that were posted on Facebook. This was my first time seeing you perform live this weekend & I really enjoyed it. It was a great time.

ES: Thank you so much for being here.

TW: Thank you very much for allowing me a few minutes to chat with you.

Here’s a video of Emi doing Tennessee Killing Song

Also, checkout this awesome tribute she did to Merle Haggard

Rowan Brothers Interview

While at Hickory Fest in Wellsboro, PA this past August, I had a chance to sit down with Chris & Lorin Rowan after their performance. They talked about their older brother Peter, their own careers and their connection with Sue Cunningham.

Tom Wickstrom (TW): I’m sitting here with the Rowan Brothers, Chris & Lorin. We’re going to have a little chat. First off, I wanted to ask you about growing up. How much older is Peter than the two of you?
Lorin Rowan (LR): Ten years for me. Chris is in the middle. I’m Lorin, the youngest.

TW: Did you all get along growing up?
LR: Yes. We were like a tribe, the brothers with the parents. Being the youngest, my older brothers were into music, so it was natural for me. I started off playing a tennis racquet, then a ukulele and then Chris showed me my first E chord.
Chris Rowan (CR): Peter showed me my first E chord. By having this almost 5 years age difference between Peter & me & another 5 years to Lorin, we kind of had our own generational age group. We find out with the relatives & friends of younger generations that as you get older, these different stages of different generations get closer together. When you get in your 40’s & 50’s, 5 years apart becomes much more current instead of he’s 20, he’s 15 & he’s 10. We got along as brothers, but kind of had our own individuality & there was always music in the house.

TW: So, your parents both played?
LR: They appreciated music. Mom could play the piano.
CR: She played “Moonlight Sonata”. She was really good in the first 50 seconds and then she would trail off. She also knew some of Cole Porter’s “Night & Day”. They loved music.
LR: Dad was a singer in glee clubs and he’d sing around the house. He’d look you in the eye and then would start singing “Camelot”. the whole show. There’s pictures of him in his twenties where he was in local theater. That generation had to deal with World War I & II as well as the Great Depression, so they toned down those bohemian inclinations for a more secure lifestyle. There’s a great picture of our dad in a play outside around a campfire, He’s dressed as a gypsy, which was reminiscent of when Peter dressed up in his Tex-Mex style. It was in our blood. We were the extra-versions of them. We blossomed totally from that side of the brain, the music side. None of us became businessmen.
CR: That’s for sure, I’ve learned to keep a checking account in order and that’s about it.
LR: We learned to make a business out of music as much as you’re supposed to. Music has been the inspiration for all of us and to this day we are all writing songs all of the time. Chris & I did a lot of duo stuff together and we also get with Pete on different occasions. We’re all lucky to be alive and healthy and still doing what we love to do. Getting together to play is really a treat.
CR: Peter is now 75 and I’ll be 70 in November and Lorin just turned 65. When we get together, we have great joy in reminiscing about our childhood & family & relatives. We enjoy our trips down memory lane.
LR: We have these records of our family memories that we talk about all the time when we get together. More than we play music. y the way, we’re working on a Christmas album with Peter too. In that time we’ll always go flashback on experiences growing up. It’s great because we know we were there. You know what I mean. The other people & the friendships you develop as you grow up. That thing you have with your family and because you all got along, helps us to relive those memories when we get together. We crack each other up. We laugh so hard at some of those things because there was some really crazy stuff that we did when we were young.
CR: You know, Pete competes sometimes pretty seriously & I get great enjoyment seeing him have a big belly laugh from some comment that I made.

TW: Do you both share the same spiritual outlook & experiences as Peter?
CR: Peter is a Buddhist type of guy. I’m more into a spirituality. I’ve had some experiences with the Medium world. I won’t go into a lot of detail, because most people might call me nutty. I’ve had some personal experiences that I hold dear to my life experience. I believe that there is a spirit world outside of this physical world.
LR: I love & I think Mother Nature is total God consciousness. Even right here. I think of right now being in the moment of now and that we are celebrating Sue. She was pure spirit with or without. Within you without you kind of thing. Living in the moment is the blessing.

TW: Do you guys get political and put that in your songwriting?
LR: Yes, we do. We could have done a song tonight that we did back in the 70’s called “All The Kings Men”, which I wrote around 1976. The Viet Nam war was ending & I felt moved to write something about it. All the Kings men they are falling, they are falling & it was just reflecting on what you were witnessing at the time. Recently we drove by somewhere and witnessed supporters of our current president. That was kind of weird.
CR: Dump the Trump. Hello.
LR: Yeah, Dump the Trump. We really don’t want to cross political lines though. We met a guy that was 92 years old on the same part of the cape that our family had a phouse through the years. He was a republican but not into politics. This was interesting. He said that he had been a very successful CEO for a company. He said: “I’m not into politics and I’m not into fighting about it”.
CR: He did say Trump was an embarrassment and that he didn’t like everything he said but he did like his fire & fury talk about North Korea and hoped they would back down. Then I read the next day in the newspaper that the North Koreans dismissed what Trump said. I’m into creating music from the heart.
LR: We are trying to bring joy and to heal. Let music be healing & sharing & laughter because there’s too much frigging hate.
CR: There’s enough hatred out there.
LR: I mean with all the stuff going on in the world that you read about, we are so lucky. The American Dream is hopefully available for anybody who wants to be here. You can also find a place like this festival to enjoy because we continue to work hard to be able to do it. That’s what I think is fabulous.

TW: The first time you recorded, David Grisman was your producer & Jerry Garcia played on it. Will you share that story?
LR: Yes, David Grisman produced our record & introduced us to Jerry. He said we should come out to the west coast. We were living on the east coast. It was either England or the west coast.
CR: I had gone over to England in March 1969 to try to get involved with the Beatles. Prior to that, David Grisman had been working with Peter in this group called Earth Opera, which was like a modern day opera of mostly Peter’s songs.
LR: Art songs
CR: They had great mandolin & guitar playing and were a great band.
LR: Have you listened to it?
TW: No, I have not.
LR: It’s interesting. It’s very different. Very artful songs.
CR: so, I went to England and I’m writing some songs that helped me confirm my belief that maybe I was a songwriter. I was beginning to think that because I loved listening to the Everly Brothers.
LR: He used to be a waitress before that (big laugh).
CR: That was in a past life (chuckle). Peter was bringing rock & roll records home like “Good Golly Miss Molly”, “Boney Maroney” & “Keep A Knocking'”. When I was about 8 or 9 I kind of wrote my first song called “Moovy Groovy”. Moovy all over the floor, Rocking around all over the town, Moovy Groovy once more tonight. I had fun & wow I can write my own songs. Anyways, I went to England and wrote a couple of songs and then I met up with David Grisman. He was living in the Boston area, kind of in the fading out period of working with Peter in Earth Opera. He was making a record & liked one of my songs. He recorded it and was really excited about it and this fiddle player on it named Richard Green. David asked us if Lorin & I played together. I said we played around the house and the next thing you know, David is making demo tapes of us and he’s also playing on some Grateful Dead albums. Because of David & Jerry’s bluegrass connections, Jerry tells Grisman to bring his recording company to northern California. We left in October 1970 and began our journey as a duo. Within 3 or 4 months, we were playing for David Geffen, who our manager was friends with. David Geffen, who managed Crosby, Stills & Nash had heard our demos & wanted to check us out. We went down & played in front of Geffen and he wanted to sign us to his new label Asylum. He also played a cassette of a new artist and asked us what we thought. It was Jackson Browne. Now, Clive Davis is in town in LA and he hears that Geffen’s onto something new. Next thing you know we are playing for Clive at the Beverly Hills Hotel and he offers twice as much money as what Geffen was offering. So here we are, 2 innocent singer songwriters having big dreams and that’s how our first record with Grisman on Columbia came about.
LR: We auditioned for Clive at the Beverly Hills Hotel. We naïve east coast boys coming out to California, but now we were in LA & Hollywood, which was different. We walked in the door and there was Georgie Jessel walking through the lobby and an actual bellboy like you see in the old movies. It was like a cartoon becoming real. We played in the Polo Lounge, It was just us with a piano & guitar. Acoustic just like we did today. After we had played for Clive & Geffen, our manager brought in Ahmet Ertigan from Atlantic Records. Here we are, 2 young kids performing for Ahmet & he asks when we were going into the studio. We went from a wing & a prayer to an all thumbs up. That’s how we got started in a nutshell.

TW: How did you meet Sue Cunningham and come together to play music?
LR: Peter invited me to come down and play at Magnolia Festival at Suwannee about 8 years ago and he invited Sue up on stage with us to sing & play fiddle. I was playing electric guitar with Peter and he had a little more of the Reggae groove going on at the time. So I actually met Sue on stage. Afterward, I told her that I was glad to meet her. We started talking & I shared with her what I was doing with my brother Chris and that we had just made a record. She told us about Hickory Fest. This was probably 8 years ago. I told her that we were going to be touring that summer and asked if there was a chance we could play on her festival. She said that she had to think about it. Over the next few days we became good friends and she told us she’d love to have us at the festival. So it became a part of our tour. We had Sue come up for a few songs to sing & play fiddle. Things went so well that it eventually progressed to talking about doing a project together.
CR: Sue’s business, outside of being an A+ violinist/fiddle player was that she worked for a company out of Jupiter (FL) that worked on turbo engines for rockets.
LR: She was a brilliant engineer.
CR: She had a business degree from MIT. Just a brilliant, loving, beautiful person but she also had many bluegrass experiences up here in Wellsboro. During the winter the season begins because it’s not sweltering hot at that time of year. We put some gigs together and came down and we all started playing together. The next thing you know, we started talking about making a CD together. We had so much fun that I asked Sue if she wanted to continue doing it and she said yes. So we started making plans to play throughout the years.
LR: The Rowan Cunningham Band made 2 records and played a lot of gigs. They were great. Too bad it got interrupted.
CR: Frank (Sue’s partner), the photographer would show up with pictures he had taken. We were touring on the “Now & Then” tour & Frank would show up with pictures. That’s how we got to know Frank. Then Lorin linked up with Peter, Sue & Frank at Mag Fest. Everything sort of just came together.
LR: We asked Frank if he would be interested in booking us and he said he’d give it a try. He became good at it. We got around and played throughout the southwest.

TW: Are you still touring regularly?
LR: Not as much. We’re mostly out of the northern California area. We do get to Hawaii and we work on our own individual projects together. So, we keep going.
CR: As much as we can find a way to tour. Basically as a duo, our act is very accessible. We can make some money and people love hearing our songs & harmonies.
LR: We can do things on an acoustic level but today we played with the Big Sky guys. There’s another new connection we’ve made. They said they would love to be our backup band when we come down to Florida. So now because of this festival & Sue, as well as Frank & Peter, things keep evolving. Another blossom has started growing.
TW: This is my first time coming to Hickory Fest. When I discover a festival such as this, I also find that I’ve made a new family .
CR: It is personable here.
LR: We’ve met some great people here. It’s got the nicest vibe. Musicians and other people have been very friendly and we’ve enjoyed talking to everyone.
CR: Did you ever hear Sue play?
TW: No. I did just grab the CD she did with Verlon Thompson and I’ve been able to listen to her live concert CD that they have been playing between sets.
LR: You need to get the Rowan Cunningham Band’s “New Horizons” CD. That’s the latest one we did together. It was beautiful and it was the 3 of us. We split the lead vocal chores and there are beautiful 3-part harmonies.
CR: That was like the accumulation of almost 2 years of making time to go to Florida and for her to come out to the west coast.

TW: I don’t want to take up much more of your time but it’s time for the bombshell question.
CR: Uh oh. Bombshell:
TW: What has music taught you about yourselves?
LR: To be true to yourself and look in the mirror of your muse and know that you are really in control of what you are doing, if you want to be. Where it goes you never know but for sure follow your heart. If you’re going to fuck up, then that’s going to cost you. If you’re going to succeed, it’s going to be a good thing. You always try to stay on that. You’re never always perfect. I’m not perfect going this way or that. I know if I want to do music, I have to let it breathe & be a part of it. I never want to hinder that. I don’t ever want to lose touch, so I watch my P’s & Q’s. When I realize that I’m getting a little on the outside, I have to rein things in.
CR: Hmm. The bombshell. I feel fortunate that I’m going to be 70. Music was so much a part of my life outside of hearing my parents & their cocktail parties. I always had a radio next to my bed. I remember hearing “Love Me Tender” and they would play it 4 times an hour. Someone would call in & they would play it again. I loved the melody. Then I heard “Dreams” by the Everly Brothers and it was so beautiful. Then I heard the Diamonds. Those beautiful chords, keeping a life of being grateful for, being appreciative of melody and channeling one’s life experiences to express yourself through lyrics & melody. Stay humble & grateful.

TW: awesome. That’s a great answer. Is there anything else I didn’t cover or ask?
CR: I really feel the music keeps me moving forward & keeps me in touch in the moment. It’s a wonderful thing to share with people and there’s an interaction with the music and those performing it especially when it’s live. Performing live really keeps you on this high. After I play, I feel like I’ve done yoga or something. It’s very evolving & meditative.
CR: It’s an endorphin. Today we used a drummer that we had never paled with before & the tempo was right in the pocket.
TW: It was magical watching you practice with Megan McGarry in here earlier.
LR: Did you get any of that by any chance?
TW: Just some pictures of you practicing. Thanks for taking the time to chat.

Jon Stickley Trio’s Music Speaks Volumes Without Words

The Jon Stickley Trio is an instrumental band based out of Asheville, NC. Jon Stickley (guitar), Lyndsay Pruett (fiddle) & Patrick Armitage (percussion) create a unique sound that combines the feel & tempo of bluegrass while pulling in many other genres including gypsy, punk & classical. I had an opportunity to sit down with the band prior to their first ever Columbus performance at Woodlands Tavern.
Tom Wickstrom(TW): First things first, how did you guys come together as a band?
Lyndsay Pruett(LP): We met basically through the Asheville music scene while playing gigs together. Stickley & I met on a gig playing bluegrass and we were going to a lot of the same jams. Patrick & I met also at a gig right when we really needed a drummer and I told Stickley that we needed to get that guy. And he was like okay.
TW: You guys don’t use vocals at all. I know that a couple of you sing. I’ve heard you sing. How did you come to the decision to be just instrumental and not include vocals in your music?
Jon Stickley(JS): It was interesting. We used to sing some in the band. We started writing & composing original instrumental music and none off us really writes songs with words, so when it came time to do our debut album with producer Dave King, he kind of helped us figure out that the instrumental stuff was what gave us our personality. It was our biggest strength. We were worried that we needed to sing more but he told us: “Don’t worry about the singing. I’m in an all instrumental band &my life is going really well. You guys should consider one more instrumental album”. We did it and we were really happy with the way the album turned out. We did our first all instrumental festival set down at the Suwannee Springfest maybe 2 or 3 years ago. We thought it was the best set that we had ever played. It seemed natural & it highlighted all of our strengths. We didn’t have that weird moment where we opened up our ands that we have done
LP: It turns out that if you don’t sing at all, nobody asks you to sing.
JS: Nobody asks about us singing anymore.
LP: When we would sing 1 or 2 songs, then everybody would be like: “You need to sing more”.
TW: With your songwriting, do you write individually or together as a group?
JS: It’s the same process with me and Lyndsay. We usually come up with a simple demo for a song & present it to the group. We try to work it or flesh it out together. Usually it takes about 3 hours to take a simple demo & turn it into a fully formed song.
TW: Patrick, do you bring anything like a percussion piece to the table for the band to work with?
Patrick Armitage(PA): I wouldn’t bring something to the table and say “let’s write a song around this”. I’ve never been like that. I’ve always been supporting and by being involved in all the arrangements and the dynamics and the feel instead of the actual songwriting. Sometimes Jon will bring beats, either something he has come up with or that he’s heard me play at a sound check or something & he’ll write around that.
TW: I saw you perform this past May at the Moonshiner’s Ball in Kentucky. Chris Cornell had just passed away and you opened your set with a moving instrumental version of “Black Hole Sun”. Was that something that you came up with on the spot. Also, how do you choose a cover song or snippets of songs to include in your sets?
JS: We haven’t done a lot of that but that was a thing where Chris Cornell was an artist who had died, but he had a big influence on me. I’m a big fan of grunge & 90’s rock and stuff like that. That one resonated with me. There have been a lot of amazing artists that have passed on and we should be doing tributes for them as well. I’ve always loved “Black Hole Sun” and it just popped into my head that it would sound neat if we played that song. Yes, we throw in things. A lot of times, the riffs of other bands that we have played just happened spontaneously at our live shows. We’ve continued to include them as part of our live shows.
TW: I see you have been added to Strings & Sol. I will see you down there. How excited are you about going?
LP: Very
JS: We are extremely excited and also very, very honored to have been asked to go. Just to be included on such a high caliber lineup such as Strings & Sol is quite an honor.
TW: With everything going on in the world and politics etcetera, do you ever interject your thought or feeling into your songs? I know it has to be a little different because you don’t write words, but does that ever come into play in your songwriting?
JS: I did write a song after the Paris nightclub shooting. I kind of came up with a tune as a response because of what was in my head space at the time. It was on my mind. The shooting had a big effect on us because we’re in venues like that every night. It’s so horrible that it happened and we had been thinking about it a lot. Usually our music doesn’t get too political though.
PA: Politics really isn’t a muse.
JS: Politics doesn’t inspire us. There’s anger that I think we all feel right now & sometimes it probably comes out in our live performances. You channel your frustrations a little bit.
LP: With instrumental music you’re even more free to really express whatever you’re processing & thinking inside. Obviously we are all thinking about the world & what’s happening in it. Without having to make a precise statement about what is going on, it becomes more of an abstract thing in the way you are expressing yourself.
JS: More people can connect with it too. They can take their own experience, whatever they are going through & relate to just the emotion they’re feeling. They can make it their own.
PA: Politics certainly provides fodder for conversation in the band when we’re driving around. That’s pretty much where it stays.
TW: I know when I talk to a lot of musicians, politics is a fine line for a band because you typically have fans from both sides of the fence and they don’t want to alienate them. Some bands are obviously more political than others and I love the response I get when I ask that question. What has music taught each of you about yourself?
LP: Music has taught me how to feel. I mean really feel things. Sometimes it’s things that I don’t really want to feel. Music conjures up emotions in myself. It’s the opposite of how it usually is. Kind of receiving music or sort of like playing music. I don’t know if that answers your question, but it bubbles emotion to the surface for me when I’m playing. It kind of makes me deal with things sometimes.
PA: I would say for me that throughout the phases of making music and learning how to play music, it taught me that I have the capacity for self-discipline and the abilities to grow & to not doubt myself. I remember crossing this threshold with my playing. I thought that all the best drummers in the world were special & different and there was no way that I could do anything like that. It really taught me the self-confidence that I could do that. Internally it was like a growth mechanism that’s really powerful. But again, music to me is about support & supporting other people and my relationship to it. I really need other people to play music if I’m going to play or at least perform. It’s taught me a lot about my ability to be open, vulnerable & connect & have an intimacy inside of that space. That’s something I really appreciate it in that context and also the ability to just have an open heart, mind & soul for whatever needs to be said about my music from wherever that comes from and to just kind of be a vessel for that. Music is really a language. Sometimes music is just going to say what it wants to say& I just have to be a channel for that. I have to be kind of open.
LP: I really agree with that. I just have a distinct memory of realizing that a very young age. Feeling that conduit sense that this is me doing this for whoever it’s being put out for. When Patrick said vessel and I think that can be applied to other phases in life.
PA: That’s the more spiritual side of it if you want to look at it like that. Music Gods, I’m just here. Use me if I can stay open.
JS: It’s almost like you have to get yourself out of the way. Clear your head and actually do it very honestly. It’s like anything. Take swimming and you get a personal best, for example. As long as you keep working at it consciously, you’ll always be improving. Each time you take a new step, it boosts your confidence. All of a sudden you’re thinking wow, I just did something that I thought I could never do. Hard work does pay off.
TW: How’s the new CD doing?
JS: It’s been doing well and has been getting great reviews. It’s been on the charts for a while. We’re getting a lot of good feedback from people that we really respect.
TW: I understand that you & Andy Thorn (Leftover Salmon) grew up together. How did you guys meet?
JS: I met him around my freshman year in high school. We were on the lacrosse team together. We also took lessons from the same guitar teacher and hung out in the Durham (NC) area. Our guitar teacher actually put us together. He actually hooked up my brother with Andy and they played guitar & banjo together. They were getting ready to do their first open mic. They got me involved & that’s when I started learning mandolin. I had always played music and been in bands, but in learning the mandolin book of the David Grisman Quintet & listening to a couple of Sam Bush albums, I became completely hooked on bluegrass. I had never heard it and I didn’t like country.
TW: Thanks so much for your time.

Billy Strings Shows A Maturity Beyond His Years

Billy Strings is a guitar player extraordinaire. Born William Apostol in Lansing Michigan, Billy was raised in Morehead Kentucky as a baby, but the family , moved to Ionia Michigan, where he did most of his growing up. While not quite 25 years old, Billy has shown a maturity in how he approaches his music and mesmerizes his audiences at each show.
I had a chance to sit down with Billy after a performance at the Blue Ox Festival in Eau Claire Wisconsin and ask a few questions.
TW: I am talking with Billy Strings, a phenomenal guitar player, who is staking his own claim in the bluegrass world and stretching out beyond those boundaries. Thanks for speaking with me Billy. What other instruments do you play other than guitar?
BS: I would say I’m mostly a guitar player. I can play mandolin and banjo, both bluegrass & claw hammer.
TW: How old were you when you started playing guitar?
BS: I was about 4 years old when I got my first real axe. My dad bought it for me at an antiques store. I started by learning fiddle songs. I’d play rhythm & my dad would play all the leads. I learned by playing rhythm on songs such as “Beaumont Rag” & “Salt Creek”.
TW: You play more than just Bluegrass songs and seem to have a pretty good background in all kinds of music. What were you listening to in your household when you were growing up?
BS: My parents are sort of old hippies, but they are also old bluegrass folks. I don’t think my parents were necessarily on the lot, but they listened to the Grateful Dead. But growing up it was Doc Watson. We listened to many Doc Watson records, but I also heard his music through my dad’s voice. I was hearing my dad singing Doc Watson’s music. That’s what I cut my teeth on really. Later on they showed me Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin & Black Sabbath all the way from King Crimson through to Yes. They also showed me Johnny Winter and many other types of great music.
TW: I was definitely digging the “Barracuda” tease.
BS: Yeah Buddy. Everything from Edgar Winter’s White Trash to Electric Ladyland and just good old music. My mom & dad had a very good record collection and I have gratefully adopted a good portion of it. That’s really cool. All the Beatles records and many others.
TW: I hear you have a new record coming out. When will be able to hear it?
BS: It will be coming out this fall. I don’t have an exact date yet.
TW: Anything special you want to share about it?
BS: I would say it’s a good snapshot of where I am now. My current band is playing on it, which I’m very excited about. Since I was living in Nashville, when I recorded the last EP, I just sort of threw together a band made up of great studio musicians in Nashville. That was easy to put together. This record has my boys, the ones I’ve been touring with making the record to see what we sound like in the studio & that’s what you’ll here. It’s all original music except for 1 fiddle tune. It’s a traditional tune. It’s a fiddle tune medley I recorded with Bryan Sutton. It’s just 2 guitars. That’s the only cover on the record. Otherwise they are all original tunes, which is exciting for me. We play a lot of bluegrass & old-timey tunes, so it’s good to get the new tunes out there. They are tunes that I have had in my head for the last couple of years & now they’re coming out.
TW: Do you do all the songwriting yourself or do you work with the other guys in the band?
BS: I mostly just write the songs & then try to figure out how to get the band to make what I’m hearing in my head happen.
TW: In your songwriting, do you come up with the lyrics or the music first?
BS: Most of the time for me it comes at the same time. Some times I write not thinking melodically, but not often. A lot of times if I’m writing lyrics, I’m already humming a tune in my head. I guess you could say I write the music first, but it’s also at the same time I’m writing the lyrics. A lot of times when I come up with a song, I come up with it right there. Every once in a while you get a “Dust In The Baggie” or “Turmoil In Tinfoil”. I wrote both those songs in about an hour. It didn’t feel like I wrote them. I just pulled them out of the air. They were already there. I just put the puzzle pieces together. I didn’t even have to write those songs. There are other days when I try to write songs and don’t get anywhere. I’m also pretty critical & sometimes embarrassed to show people my stuff. I’m trying to teach myself to just let it out. Who cares what people think? It’s art. It’s subjective. I could write one terrible song, buy it might resonate with 1 person. I’m not trying to write music that I think millions of people will like.
TW: With what’s going on in the world, do you think about writing a political song or make a statement with your music?
BS: There’s a song on the album that sort of comes off that way. It strikes a political nerve, but it’s actually a song about these kind of old blue hairs, that frown upon people in the heavy metal crowd in their mosh pits. There’s a wonderful interview with Marilyn Manson and he’s on this talk show and all these older people are grilling him about how they go to these heavy metal shows, how they are doing mosh pits & that people are going to get injured. There’s a trust there. Nobody pushes you into the mosh pit. That’s what they do at a heavy metal concert. Those kids are having fun. I think it’s a really special thing, so I wrote a song about it, but for some reason it comes across as political. Instead of thinking it’s about mosh pits, you might think I’m talking about our fuckin’ president.
TW: I find it’s a fine line also. Since your audience is made up of bluegrass & americana fans, you’re going to get both republicans & democrats at your shows.
BS: Well, I can’t see any reason to stand behind that guy, but at the same time I take people the way they treat me. If 100 people say the bird is blue, the bird is probably blue. Until that blue bird pecks at me a little, I’m not going to hold anything against it. I know there are people that have stories about how this guy is a jerk or this & that. Well, if that guy has never been a jerk to me, until that happens we’ll be cool , because I have no reason. As far as voting for the president, I think you just need to figure things out. I don’t hate you. You’re my brother & my sister. If only everyone could figure that out. It’s just cool to be here at all. We’re so lucky to be here.
TW: To me it’s music that fosters healing.
BS: It’s huge. Very important. We just lost a dear friend in the Greensky Bluegrass community in Jessica Lovey Snyder.
TW: I’m actually leaving the festival later tonight to drive back to Ohio for her memorial celebration.
BS: There has been an outpouring of love, love, love. It’s amazing and this community has been so great, so kind. Everyone takes care of each other. We’re so lucky to be a part of this wonderful community. I wish more people could kind of get on our level that way.
TW: She was a light that shined so brightly for everyone. Rachel Ciboro was another light from the Greensky scene that passed away at Delfest last year, also because of health reasons. They are both missed dearly.
BS: You know what’s kind of strange? That night we were playing somewhere in West Virginia at some tiny little bar out in the middle of nowhere. I was still drinking at the time. There weren’t many people there & we were getting drunk on stage. In walks these 2 guys. While we were playing, they kept looking at us with a numb look on their faces. After the show they walked up to us and said they had just left Delfest. They said they had been with Rachel that morning and after what happened to her, they took off & left the festival. They just happened to randomly walk into the bar we were playing in. They knew who we were, but had just stepped in for a drink & to blow off steam and there we were. It was really kind of strange.
TW: What has music taught you about yourself?
BS: Well, it’s the real deal. It’s everything. I think music has kept me out of a lot of trouble. Music has given me something to focus on & be in love with & to have as my own. It’s yours. The music is yours to have & to take with you. I grew up in Ionia Michigan. There was a lot of substance abuse. Not real early, but in my pre-teen years. I lived in a small town & everyone is bored. There is nothing to do for fun, so by the time they are in the 7th grade, they are taking oxycodone, meth, heroin & cocaine. They are having sex when they are 13 years old. It’s insane. I smoked a cigarette and pot for the 1st time when I was 8 years old. By the time I was 13, I was smoking weed every day. I look at a 13 year old kid now & I just want to cry because they’re so young. They should be playing with Yoyos, not smoking Marlboros. I grew up quick that way & I don’t regret a mile. I could have gone down a different path and I swear that bluegrass music specifically saved me. I used to play in a metal band. It was kind of a darker road or path. Even the subject matter of the songs was darker. I felt like there was a cloud hanging over my head. One day I stole my mom’s Chevelle. There was a tape hanging out of the cassette player & I wondered what my mom was listening to, so I pushed it in & it was the Stanley Brothers “Rank Stranger”. As it played, I started to slow down that old car & just sort of pulled over on the side of the road, I guess it had been a while since I had heard good bluegrass and it hit me hard. I got rid of my electric guitar & got myself an acoustic one. I realized that bluegrass was really where my heart was, so I went back to it. This time I wanted to learn how to pick leads. I went back to my dad & asked him to show me that “Salt Creek” or “Browns Ferry Blues” or whatever it was.
TW: Did your dad play music out or just at home?
BS: When he was younger, he used to gig. My dad used to play in rock & roll bands in bars & clubs. You could also find him in the campground picking his ass off all night. When I was growing up, my parents would take me to bluegrass festivals.They weren’t like the festivals today. these were ones that might have 200-500 campers & everyone was a picker. We hardly made it to the stage area to see the music. It was about the picking in the campground. When I moved up to Traverse City a couple of years ago. My friend Kelsey showed me the String Cheese Incident. I heard the flatpicking, but I also heard so much more. I gave Greensky Bluegrass another listen also & I heard something I hadn’t heard before. I started to understand it. Before, I was stuck in this traditional hole & pigeon-holed myself within that. All I had heard was Lester & Earl, Doc & Merle & Bill Monroe’s Band. So when I heard the Infamous Stringdusters, I was like Wow! This is cool & they’re young people. This is like modern & cool and it’s bluegrass instruments, but it’s music. It is boundary less. There are no walls here. It’s all fun & people of all ages can enjoy it. I love it. I feel lucky every day. I feel thankful that I have this gift & that I was born into a musical family. My parents taught me a lot about music. My dad would sit me down and say “Look kid. This is David Grisman. You need to know this guy”. They taught me about good music & I’m really grateful for that. I’m just trying to do a good job. Whenever I can, I call home & tell my dad that I just did this or played with David Grisman or that I just met Sam Bush. They are so proud.
TW: I saw you play with David Grisman at the Anastasia Festival in St. Augustine this past March. Any other collaborations planned?
BS: Not really. We’re working really hard on the current band. We will be doing a co-tour this fall with the Whiskey Shivers. It will be a rowdy good time.
TW: I don’t have anything else. Is there anything else you want to get out there?
BS: I love you
TW: Thanks (blushing) Duck Creek Log Jam 2017 0128 Billy Strings Band.jpg

Hartfordfest Quite The Boogie

The secret is out! Everyone is learning that the John Hartford Memorial Festival(JHMF) is the most laid back festival in the Midwest. Held for its 7th year at the Bill Monroe Memorial Bluegrass Park & Campground, JHMF has established itself as a premire destination for bluegrass, americana & related musical styles. The entire lineup was stellar from top to bottom. This would be the 4th time in the last 5 years that I would covering the festival and it was nice to see how much the festival has grown over the last few years. There are 3 stages:Hartford (main) Stage, Hippy Hill Stage & Boogie Stage and they all stayed busy throughout the weekend. There is a curfew for amplified music at JHMF, but that’s when everyone heads back to the camp sites for late night picking until dawn.
I arrived on Wednesday and I was able to set up camp right behind the Hartford Stage. Although Thursday is actually the official start to the festival, there was music on the Hartford Stage on Wednesday night and many others besides myself showed up early to grab the best campsites and enjoy the music. Flatland Harmony Experiment kicked things off with their twist on bluegrass infused music. Avocado Chic, a band made up of rotating group of regional musicians with no permanant members fired up the crowd with their unrehearsed & energetic set of tunes. Growler, based out of Chicago, followed & delivered a foot stomping set of their own. The Tillers out of Cincinnati then closed out the night and had the audience moving & grooving up until curfew. What a great earlybird night of music.
Thursday started off with the official Opening Ceremonies and was followed by Betse & Clarke With The Aching Hearts delivering an All-Hartford set. Since I was camped right behind the main stage, I focused most of my attentions there due to the stacked lineup of artists performing there. Up next was Farmer & Anderson. Consisting of folk singer Chicago Farmer & Backyard Tire Fire’s Edward David Anderson, this unique pairing created one of the many surprise highlights of the festival. The Dead Winter Carpenters & Old Salt Union then offered lively sets f their songs. The Lil Smokies from Missoula Montana are quickly becoming a favorite of mine and I thoroughly enjoyed it when they covered Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger” and Elton John’s “Rocket Man”. The Larry Keel Experience followed with a great set of tunes interpreted in a way that only Larry can do. Larry is one of the best flat picking guitarists and since he started using pedals a few years ago, his sound has elevated to another even a higher level. Closing out the evening was the Rumpke Mountain Boys. Based out of Cincinnati, Rumpke has been a strong supporter of the festival since the beginning and it was fitting for them to headline the first night with their “Trashgrass” style of music. They never create a setlist in advance and offered a very Hartford heavy set that took the crowd on a musical journey. Everyone was exhausted (in a good way) by sets end and happily headed back to the campsites for the late night picking.
On Friday I was feeling a little lazy as I headed to Hartford Stage for the opening set of Colin O’Brien & Travis Burch. Colin has performed multiple times at JHMF with his interpretive performance as John Hartford. The addition of Travis added a new dimension to the songs as they performed an All-Hartford set to start the day. Once again the Hartford stage held most of my attention but I did make it over to he Boogie Stage for Chicago’s Miles Over Mountains and to the Hippy Hill Stage for repeat performances by the Dead Winter Carpenters & Old Salt Union. I experienced 4 bands that I had never seen before:The Last Revel, Joseph Huber, Molly Tuttle & Jesse McReynolds. They all offered inspiring performances that made me wanting more. Bawn In The Mash took everyone down a musical road of many diverging styles with lots of twists & turns. Pert Near Sandstone out of Minneapolis was also a musical highlight for me. It had been a few years since I had seen them and it was nice to be reminded about how much good they were& to watch them perform. The Steep Canyon Rangers were the last band of the evening and delivered a high energy set of bluegrass music enhanced with a spectacular light show that fired up the crowd into a frenzy for 90 minutes. As much energy as the band presented, fiddler Nicky Sanders bounced around covered every part of the stage like a madman on speed. I thought he would run out of steam before the end of the set, but he never did. Everyone else was worn out from the frenzied performance & once again headed back for more picking.
When I awoke on Saturday morning, I thought to myself about how great the festival had been. I felt like I already had a weekend’s worth of great music, but Saturday seemed like a bonus day. Off The Wagon kicked off the Hartford Stage by performing John Hartford’s “Gumtree Canoe” in its entirety. This was an awesome way to set the stage for a great day of music on that stage. The Wooks from Lexington, Ky proved their bluegrass skills on stage including a kick ass version of Peter Rowan’s “Midnight Moonlight”. Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon brought a few of his friends on stage for a rousing set of americana music and Michael Cleveland delivered a set of music that highlighted his fiddle playing skills and showed why he is a 10 time IBMA Fiddler Of The Year. I did sneak over to Hippy Hill Stage to see another few songs by Pert Near Sandstone and returned later to catch some of New Old Cavalry’s only set of the festival. The rest of the evening was spent at the main stage. Both the Traveling McCourys and the Jeff Austin Band delivered great high energy sets separately before combining forces to present the Grateful Ball, a bluegrass musical journey of the music of the Grateful Dead. Lastly, the JHMF All Star Band closed the festival out in the proper way. Although there was more picking going on late, I headed back to camp.
Once again JHMF proved that it is one of the best musical festivals in the country. The laid back atmospere fostered a sense of community that I felt like I was among family. I was exhausted from all the great music I had experienced all weekend but in a good way. I’m already planning on returning next year.

Blue Ox Growing Into One Babe Of A Music Festival

The Blue Ox Music Festival 2017 will be in Eau Claire, Wisconsin from June 8-10. Pert Near Sandstone, a bluegrass band based out of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota has hosted, performed & have been involved from the beginning. Started in 2015, this will be the 3rd year for the festival which has quickly become a destination for Bluegrass, Americana & acoustic inspired music in the upper Midwest. This years lineup is stellar from top to bottom featuring such diverse acts as the Punch Brothers, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, Sam Bush, Son Volt & Fruition. Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Dead Horses & Dead Man Winter are among the regional bands showcasing their talents as well.
I had the opportunity to speak with Nate Sipe, mandolin & fiddle player for Pert Near Sandstone recently about the band and the Blue Ox Music Festival. Below is what we discussed.
Tom Wickstrom: Thank you for meeting me today. 1st off, let’s talk about the Blue Ox Music Festival. How did it get started?
Nate Sipe: We were on tour in Colorado with the Travelling McCourys. Jim Bischel, Who runs Country Jam USA in Wisconsin , happened to be visiting his son Mark, who was living in Colorado at the time. They just happened to come to our show. Mark was trying to show his dad what the Bluegrass/Americana/younger acoustic scenes were all about, because that’s what Mark’s enthusiasm was focused. Jim was blown away by the scene and the experience and he started wondering if this scene & enthusiasm existed in the Minnesota/Wisconsin area. Since Jim had been producing Country Jam USA for 30 years and it was kind of a family business, he began thinking there might be a way to add & include this music. Since we were on that show in Colorado and based out of Minnesota, Jim asked us if we wanted to get involved & we jumped at the idea. Initially the thought was that it would just be an added stage to the Country Jam lineup, but the idea blossomed into creating a separate festival to showcase Bluegrass, Americana & acoustic styles of music. Because of our many years of touring around the country and our many connections to bands within our scene, it grew into a bigger concept than a side stage addition. That’s how Blue Ox came about. This will be our 3rd year and it keeps getting better. It’s been a complete success.
TW: How does Pert Near Sandstone get involved with the festival?
NS: We say that we are curating the festival. That means we are completely involved with selecting all the bands, producing the various stages & scheduling, as well as working closely with the Country Jam folks to make sure everything is working from both the audience’s & performers perspectives. We make sure hospitality is working and that everyone is happy so they keep coming back year after year. We also have a family camping & picking areas to appeal to all kinds of music fans. There will also be late night picking jams that have yet to be announced.
TW: Do you try to include local artists on the Blue Ox Lineup?
NS: We do have a side stage that showcases mostly local and regional acts. Since we are based out of Minnesota, many of the bands that we have befriended  over the years will be performing. We like to present local favorites to perform, because you may not get an opportunity to see them elsewhere in the country. The Wisconsin/Minnesota music scene is very do it yourself. We are all supportive of each other and have worked diligently to lay rooys & create that has been supportive of each other. It’s a fun community to be a part & to see it grow & evolve.
TW: Is there any new music coming up for Pert Near Sandstone?
NS: We just recorded a cover of an old Sam Cooke tune we’re going to be releasing as a single. It’s mostly to help promote Blue Ox and we’re always working on new music. We hope to get back in the studio in the fall and hopefully have new music come out in Spring 2018. We will probably record again in the home studio of Ryan Young (Trampled By Turtles). He’s a great friend and one of my favorite persons to make music with.
TW: Any other projects you’re currently working on?
NS: A couple of us play locally in a band called the Fiddle Heirs. It includes myself, Ryan Young and a rotating cast of local musicians. We get together and do a handful of shows once in a while. I think we are sitting on an album’s worth of music, so hopefully we can get that record out soon. We may get a chance to jam together at Blue Ox  also.
TW: I see you will be at the John Hartford Memorial Festival the week prior to Blue Ox. Is this your 1st time there?
NS: No. This will be our 2nd appearance. We had the pleasure of playing there 2 years ago. This festival has a special meaning to all of us because of what John Hartford meant to us and the music we’ve learned to love. There’s a special vibe there and there’s also plenty of late night picking for us. We were also amazed at the amount of golf carts there.
TW: Thank you for your time today. I’ll see you at Blue Ox.
Blue Ox Music Festival is from June 8-10, 2017. Pert Near Sandstone is hosting & will perform 2 nights. For more information, go to