Jeff Scroggins & Colorado are a dynamic band that are just beginning to reach their potential. Over the Line is a wonderful document of the band and their journey.Read More
Nothing warms the heart like some hot bluegrass music during the cold winter months here in Colorado and the hottest music is coming your way in the best venue for live music on the Front Range, the Broomfield Auditorium.
The Colorado Bluegrass Music Society announces its 2019 line up of artists in this ever popular concert series.Read More
On the Northern Beat
By Jan Peterson
With apologies to Paul Simon, there must be 50 ways to break up a band… or more: moving away, especially prevalent in college towns; changing life circumstances, like having children; medical issues—one’s own, or a family member’s; these are all common reasons for parting ways.
And, yes, I am writing this because my band is now broken up (we’re still friends). But out of the ashes, new life appears. I’m working on establishing a new band, and I have a new set of characters (figuratively and literally) to deal with. It’s always interesting to find out how others learn, musically-speaking. I now have two extremes: those with classical music training and those with absolutely no musical training. And what is truly amazing to me is that this group of musicians can actually play together and sound great! Bluegrass is like that: it brings folks together.
But there are issues to be overcome, and the most common have to do with timing. A good musician who has learned everything he (or she) knows “by ear” is usually mystified when classically trained musicians talk about timing, or phrasing, using the language of written music. So, in hopes of providing new understanding, or at least clarification, here is a brief summary of terminology.
You’ve probably heard the term beat. A beat is the basic unit of rhythm, the underlying steady pulse of the song, the part that makes you tap your feet. Rhythm is a repeating sequence of stressed and unstressed beats (sometimes called “strong” and “weak”), divided into “bars” organized by “time signature” and tempo indications (more on this later).
This rhythm is usually embedded in the bluegrass guitar’s strum (affectionately verbalized as “boom-chick” where “boom” denotes the plucking of a bass note on the down-beat, while “chick” denotes the strum of a chord on the up-beat). Yes, “the beat” can be subdivided into a downbeat and an upbeat, and it’s that rocking, back-and-forth, repetitive gesture that IS the beat. When we talk of “getting in the groove,” that’s when all the musicians in a group are feeling the exact same rhythmic timing, with no tension between individuals having slightly “off” timing.
A group of beats are collected into what we like to call a bar (we just like that word). Actually, it’s because the bar line (or barline) is a vertical line across a printed “music staff” (the group of horizontal lines that denote frequencies) so that where a note is placed on the staff tells us what note, or frequency, the player should play (i.e., an F note). When you “read” music, you are “reading” these notes on a staff.
Bars separate collections of the notes into groupings related to beats. The actual number of beats contained within a bar varies with different styles of music, but with bluegrass music, you will usually find four beats in a bar. (Five beatniks walk into a bar, but the bartender tells them he can’t allow more than 4 “beats” in a bar.)
Musical notation is based on this concept of a bar. The noun “bar” is defined as:
- A long rod or rigid piece of wood, metal, or similar material
- A counter across which alcoholic drinks or refreshments are served (musicians are typically well-versed in this version of the word)
- A barrier or restriction to an action or advance (synonyms: obstacle, impediment, hindrance, obstruction)
- In music: a measure of music or the time of a piece of music
- Just to complicate things, the exact same thing is also known as “a measure.” The noun “measure” is musically defined as:
- The rhythm of a piece of poetry or a piece of music (synonyms: meter, cadence, rhythm)
- A particular metrical unit or group (measures of two or three syllables are more frequent in English prose)
- Any of the sections, typically of equal time value, into which a musical composition is divided, shown on a score by vertical lines across the staff (i.e., a bar!)
- Just like beats are grouped into bars, the bars themselves are grouped into phrases. When someone tells you that this song has “an A part and a B part,” he’s telling you there are distinctly different musical phrasings in different parts of the song. And just to confuse matters a little more, the A and B parts, themselves, are usually comprised of multiple phrases.
Next: whether we know it or not, music is all constructed on the framework of a “time signature.” We all understand it intuitively, when someone says, “This is waltz time,” meaning 3/4 time (pronounced “three-four time”) as opposed to the more common 4/4 time: there are three beats “to a bar” (or three beats “to a measure”) rather than four.
In jazz, it’s fairly common to have unusual time signatures (like Brubeck’s “Take Five,” using 5/4 time) and for time signatures (which are a printed indicator of the beats-per-bar, placed at the beginning of the staff) to change, even numerous times, in the composition of a single musical piece. In bluegrass, that’s almost unheard of; once we start a rhythm we tend to stay with that rhythm (think continuously-rolling banjo). Still, there are always exceptions.
The full explanation of the 3/4 time signature is “three beats to a bar, and the quarter note gets the beat,” which only makes sense to those who actually read music scores. But the idea is relatively easy to grasp: your timing repeats 123/123 instead of 1234/1234. Six/eight time is just a high-energy 3/4 time (think “Irish Washer Woman”), where the eighth note gets the beat, rather than the quarter note. It’s still based on threes: 123456/123456, which could also be 123/456/123/456.
But this brings us back to the term “phrase,” because a minimum complete phrase in 6/8 time requires a full six beats, while a minimum complete phrase in 3/4 time can be just three beats. Different songs have differing lengths of complete phrases, but a complete phrase in 4/4 time is usually eight beats (although it can be 16, or four… but always an integer multiple of the basic four beats/bar).
The lyrics in vocal music can really help you understand phrasing. The natural punctuation of the sentence structure will often determine the phrase: periods, commas, and semi-colons usually correspond with the phasing. However, without lyrics it can sometimes be difficult to determine a phrase, because phrases can have smaller phrases (musical ideas) embedding into them.
So all of these words are a bit nebulous, as they are applied to music. But that’s because we don’t want rules to get in the way of invention! Isn’t it incredible what we can do with only an octave worth of notes? How many 1-4-5 songs do you know? Isn’t that amazing?
We have rules, but not too many and —sometimes— we even break them on purpose. Like “The Clinch Mountain Backstep,” where the composer just said, look I can add a beat if I want to! Or “Rebecca,” where “the trick” to understanding the song is to know that every time you go to the four chord, it only gets three beats (it’s a 4/4 song) —except for the first four chord in the beginning phase, where it only gets one beat.
These are all technical issues that we address in order to play music that an audience (or “an audient” if there’s only one listener) will enjoy and come back for more. Music is mostly (my opinion) about eliciting emotions from the players (who need to feel it) as well as the listening audience (whether that’s your neighbors on the porch or a auditorium filled with thousands of people). Getting emotion into your musical delivery is something you need to continuously develop over time, as your technical skills continue to improve.
Now, I don’t want anyone to think that I “believe” classically trained musicians are necessarily “better” than those who have learned by ear. In fact, the thing musicians want most is to be able to effortlessly translate, with their fingers, the notes they hear in their heads, and those who learn by ear are actually closer to the ability to do that. But there are excellent musicians who have learned their craft both ways!
Of course, the best of all possible worlds is to do both: play by ear, but also have classical training so you understand musical technicalities. But there is no reason to pre-judge anyone on how they learned—or on any measure of ability other than actual performance. I’m just trying to help you improve your performance.
What’s Happenin’ on the Western Slope?
By Veta Gumber, aka Vetabluegrass
July 6, Jenny Hill & Sam Pankrantz, Gunnison
July 6, Rapidgrass, Mad Dog Café, Crawford
July 6, Clyde (of The Milltaillers), Blink Coffee, Mesa
July 7, Copper Mountain Music Festival, Copper Mountain
July 7, Bonnie & the Clydes, Crested Butte
July 8, Rapidgrass, Aspen
July 12, Billy Strings, Ridgway Town Park
July 13, Stray Grass, Palisade Brewing Co
July 14, Clyde & the Milltailers, Delicious Orchards, Paonia
July 15, Colebrook Road, Aspen
July 17, Halden Wofford & the Hi Beams, I- Bar Ranch, Gunnison
July 18, Michael Martin Murphy, I-Bar Ranch, Gunnison
July 19, Stray Grass, Fruita Civic Center Park
July 20, I Draw Slow, Moab
July 22, Woodbelly, Aspen
July 20-22, Mud Springs Bluegrass Camp Out, Near Grand Junction
July 27, The Hackensaw Boys, Warehouse 25sixty-five, Grand Junction
July 29, Bluegrass Offenders, Aspen
Don’t be a closet picker! Jams are a fun place to listen to or engage in bluegrass with local musicians. Jams are held weekly at various locations. For more information check out info on the Grand Valley Acoustic Music Association site. Or just ask a local picker!
In our June/July issue of Pow'r Pickin', Max Paley interviewed The Rev from the Lil Smokies.
Max says: The Lil' Smokies play a dual role for the modern bluegrass scene in that they appreciate and draw from the bluegrass tradition while not being afraid to stretch the boundaries of the genre a bit. This video in particular shows their vocal proficiency with 3-part harmonies and presents them in their best acoustic sense. This song "Go Back" talks about how you can't live in the past, but you can go back to visit every now and again with the Smokies as your time-traveling soundtrack!
Pick up your copy of Pow'r Pickin' at member music venues and stores in Colorado or subscribe by joining the Colorado Bluegrass Music Society today!
Max Paley, writing in our June/July issue of Pow'r Pickin', introduces us to Dave Bruzza of Greensky Bluegrass.
Max says: Greensky Bluegrass have brought their genre-busting energy to stages across the U.S. and internationally for close to 20 years now, and this song is a great example of how they can effortlessly transform Prince's pop sound to acoustic instruments while keeping the energy sky high.
If you want to receive Pow'r Pickin' in your mail box every two months, become a member of CBMS!
Award-Winning Female Artists form "Super Group" for RockyGrass
Alison Brown gathered this group of amazing musicians together to record "Swept Away," the title track to Missy Raines' latest album, which Brown produced. The group is comprised of IBMA best instrument winners Raines (bass), Brown (banjo), Sierra Hull (mandolin), Becky Buller (fiddle) and Molly Tuttle (guitar).
Read about this bluegrass supergroup, performing at RockyGrass, in the June/July 2018 issue of Pow'r Pickin'!
Check out the cover article of the June - July 2018 Pow'r Pickin' to find out why Alison Brown is so excited to perform with this group. And, she tells us, "It wouldn’t be RockyGrass without a few surprise guests!"
You can get your own subscription to Pow'r Pickin' by becoming a member of the Colorado Bluegrass Music Society.
By Doris Gray
If you’ve heard the name, you may think the spelling would be Christa Monroe, but she has a unique spelling in both first and last names: Crista Munro. Crista is featured here because of the great work she has done in Colorado bluegrass. Let’s get to know her!
Pow’r Pickin’: This year, you will be hosting the 13th Annual Pagosa Folk ‘n Bluegrass Festival in June and the 23rd Annual Four Corners Folk Festival over Labor Day Weekend. Are you the original founder of these two festivals? How did they come about?
Crista Munro: My husband, Dan Appenzeller, and I were among the original group of people who began meeting in 1994 to talk about starting a music festival in Pagosa Springs, though we weren’t yet married or even dating. There were about a dozen of us back then; some were musicians, some just lovers of music.
At the time, our now world-famous hot springs facility was in the infancy of its development (4 above-ground plastic Jacuzzi tubs, really!) and the main draw to town was skiing in the winter at Wolf Creek and hunting in the fall.
We wanted to put Pagosa Springs on the map for a whole different reason. Eventually, the reality of the workload of starting an event took its toll and the group shrunk down to a couple of hardcore dedicated people, including us.
We raised money for two years so we’d have seed money for the first event and studied other festivals to help us pin down our own vision. It’s funny to look back and realize we did it all without the Internet!
The first festival took place in 1996 with a pretty amazing lineup including John Hartford, John McEuen and Nickel Creek—though they were barely teenagers at the time!
PP: Tell us what the average attendance is at your festivals and about the overall ambiance or “feel” that the crowd provides.
CM: Our festivals are small-to-midsize. The June event, Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass, has been drawing about 2000 people a day and Four Corners about twice that.
Our festival home, 130-acre Reservoir Hill, allows people to spread out enough that it never feels too crowded; people are often hanging at their campsites, attending a workshop or checking out vendors. The camping on Reservoir Hill is quite legendary.
The campgrounds are shaded by majestic ponderosa pines, and the Town of Pagosa Springs recently partnered with a couple of local environmental groups to carry out some major forest health initiatives, opening up a lot more flat areas for camping. The hill itself is located in the heart of downtown, but feels like a National Forest and offers breathtaking views of the San Juan Mountains.
PP: You also host the Pagosa Bluegrass Jam Camp in conjunction with the June festival. Has it traditionally been well attended by both adults and kids? What do students report to you about their experience?
CM: Jam Camp has been great fun! We started out with a bluegrass camp for kids back in 2008 but the parents were quickly asking about a camp for them as well. Mike Finders from FY5 reached out and offered to run a Jam Camp for us similar to one they’ve been teaching at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. The timing was perfect, and we’ve been doing that one since 2010.
Both camps typically hit maximum capacity with a waiting list, though we do have room in both at the time I’m writing this. The students love the instruction, and the other thing we hear is that it’s great to get there before the festival and enjoy a relatively quiet time on Reservoir Hill. Participants also love that they can just stay on in their camp spot through the festival without waiting in line.
We have MANY returning folks every year and it’s been a nice way for festival staff to get to know some of our folks on a deeper level, outside of the craziness of running a festival.
PP: Your role and overall impact in Colorado bluegrass is very much appreciated. But what do we know about you? Do you live in Pagosa? Tell us about your immediate family situation.
CM: Dan and I were married on Reservoir Hill in October 1996, about one month after the first Four Corners Folk Festival took place. We raised our son Elias in Pagosa Springs until 2011, when severe health issues forced us to move to lower ground.
People that know us are familiar with Dan’s bout with esophageal cancer in 2004 and the devastating after effects of the chemo and radiation treatment that cured him. If ever we knew what an amazing community the festival had built it was then, when people we had barely known stepped in to make sure everything got done.
Over the years following Dan’s treatment, it became apparent that high and dry living was not possible for him anymore so we made the difficult decision to relocate our family to Eugene, Oregon, after 20 beautiful years in Pagosa Springs. I still spend a good bit of the summer in Pagosa Springs running the festivals, but we are able to take care of everything remotely in the off season through an amazing seasonal staff on the ground in Colorado and the miracle of the Internet.
PP: When did you first experience bluegrass music and find your passion for it?
CM: My first exposure to bluegrass was Old & In The Way back in the early ‘90s. I know I’m not the only person that came to bluegrass via Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead! I became a huge fan of Vassar Clements and Peter Rowan from there, then Dave Grisman and Grateful Dawg.
Dan and I initially met when he came into my copy shop to make flyers for his bluegrass radio show on our local radio station at the time, KPAG. I started listening to his show and got turned on to Tony Rice, Béla Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Alison Krauss, Sam Bush, Emmylou Harris, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Tim & Mollie O’Brien… so much great music.
PP: Where were you raised and, if not a Colorado native, when did you get here? And what brought you to Colorado?
CM: I grew up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and moved to Pagosa Springs in May of 1991, shortly after graduating from college. I had a unique job that sent me out on the road from coast to coast, north to south, and I was instantly drawn to the West. The mountains and people of Southwest Colorado felt like home and I decided to try to make a go of it there, rather than go the traditional corporate job route back east. It was one of the best decisions of my life!
PP: Tell us about your upbringing and the early influences that make you the person you are today.
CM: I was raised by a single mom who LOVES music. She had a decent record collection, and my brother and I would come home from school and put some Beatles or Chicago or Three Dog Night on the giant, wooden Sylvania cabinet stereo. We listened to Kasey Kasem religiously every week.
Growing up, I spent a lot of my babysitting money on 45s, mostly pop songs. I would say that my musical taste has definitely expanded over the years, but a love of music was instilled at a young age.
PP: Are you a musician? If so, what instruments do you play? Tell us about your level of active playing and/or performing.
CM: I am not. I used to play around on my grandmother’s piano, but I never took lessons. I channel my passion for music into facilitating it and being a supporter of the arts.
PP: What wisdom might you offer anyone interested in establishing a new festival?
CM: Be clear on your motivation for starting a festival and desired outcome. Surround yourself with good people.
PP: Finally, tell us your background in the workplace. And what hobbies do you enjoy today?
CM: My background is in communication and marketing, both of which were super helpful skills to have for starting and running a festival.
I love hiking, mountain biking and snowboarding, though I haven’t done that last one in Oregon yet, because once you’ve boarded in Wolf Creek powder, what’s the point?
I’ve been making jewelry for 25 years, mostly for friends and family, but I do have a shop on Etsy that keeps me busy over the holiday season. I also volunteer with a homeless shelter during the winter months in Eugene.
Thank you, Crista, for taking the time for our readers to get to know you and to tell us about the history of your festivals. Readers, you can learn more about the festivals at Folkwest.com. You may contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 877-472-4672.
By Jan Peterson
This year I missed the Mid-Winter Bluegrass Festival, and you know it would take something extraordinary for me to miss that! Yep, flu. Like so many others in Colorado and around the world, this flu season got to me with an exceptionally debilitating form of the annual infection.
For me, it all started in Denver, where I was exposed to many more potential flu-carriers than I am used to—living in semi-isolation in the mountains does have its advantages. I was at a convention, complete with speakers, panel discussions, open-bar social mixers, and post-banquet entertainment. Usually, these events have either an “inspirational speaker,” or a band for post-banquet entertainment; in the past, I have attended some that had bluegrass bands including folks I know. I anticipated “the usual.”
As I was sinking emotionally and physically, coming down with the flu, I along with the thousands of other convention-goers attended the event’s main banquet where a musician—a solitary troubadour, entertained us. Listed in the meeting agenda as “Joe Stoddard, Entertainer,” it was a surprise to me when he walked onto the stage with his guitar. I thought “entertainer” would be different than “musician.” But I settled in, fighting nausea and the urge to flee, in the hopes that I could learn something from this musical “entertainer,” or simply enjoy his music.
He had white hair, and a pedigree read by the event’s MC, as Joe stood off to the side during his introduction, of having played with a number of California bands dating back into the ‘60s, that he wrote some songs for. So I figured that it would be natural for him to have evolved into a solo singer-songwriter act.
He was addressing an audience pre-conditioned with liberal applications of free liquor (always good for a live performing act), but we were totally unprepared for what transpired. This “entertainer” broke through my growing delirium to elicit an intense reaction from me, and everyone else in the audience. Much to my surprise, he evoked one of humanity’s most powerful emotional responses: laughter!
Because he was not just a musician, but also a stand-up comic of a musician!
On his first number, he foreshadowed the remainder of his show by talking directly to the audience as he strummed his guitar creating “background noise.” He asked what genre of music folks wanted him to play, and his well-rehearsed solution to the inevitable cacophony of audience responses was to claim a split between country music and rock & roll, with maybe a few sprinkles of folk thrown in.
So he went to work. I can’t remember or describe everything he did, but a few of the more memorable moments stand out. He did mention that almost all love songs from the ‘50s used the same 4-chord progression (think “Oh, Donna”), which he proceeded to demonstrate by playing portions of at least half a dozen of them.
At the end of that medley, was some song about being down and out, or getting knocked down, or something (I don’t remember). What I vividly remember is his taking a pratfall with his guitar with me only being able to see a foot and leg sticking up from the stage floor! So now you should be able to imagine my surprise when I first realized that he was not just a musician, but a stand-up comic as well.
He combined slapstick humor with music and more cerebral humor. I think the high point was when he said he could do an amazing imitation of a musician from the ‘60s, but only if he stuffed his mouth full of tissues first. And he did stuff half a dozen tissues into his mouth one by one as we, the audience watched. So whom did he imitate? Bob Dylan, of course.
After his show, as the audience was filing out a single open door from the banquet hall, I happened to pass Joe as he was collecting his electronic gear from the back of the room. I told him that I had called out “bluegrass” in response to his initial question about musical genres, but he obviously didn’t hear me. His reply, “Well, that would have been interesti...” was cut off by someone behind me in the line filing past, grabbing his attention with a compliment. So I guess I’ll never know if he could have pulled off his on-stage humor using bluegrass as his musical context.
But, as a result of this experience, I offer this as yet another option for aspiring musicians: maybe you want to become a musical stand-up comedian.
As of 2018, the bluegrass jam at Avogadro’s Number, 605 S. Mason Street in Fort Collins, will continue to happen every Wednesday night, but now it is starting at 7:00 pm (or earlier, if you want to organize a group to meet earlier). Mason Street Bluegrass Band will no longer play on stage before the jam starts, so grab your early-to-bed friends and get down there early to pick and grin!
Mason Street will be playing a regular night show at 8:00 p.m. every second Friday of each month; come out and support bluegrass musicians!
By Cathleen Norman
Like the return of the robin and Pasque flowers blooming beside the trail, MeadowGrass signals the end of spring and launch of summer. For ten years in a row, Rocky Mountain Highway and Steve Harris have brought a winning mix of Americana genres—strong on string bands and acoustic duos and drawing from local, regional, national and Canadian talent.
The music fest takes place May 25-27 on the pine-forest acres of Le Foret in the Black Forest north of Colorado Springs. New this year is a Friday beer tasting that surely showcases Pikes Peak Brewing and their newly debuted MeadowGrass Brew—a pleasant ale in a collectible can.
Lizzy Plotkin and her fiddle open the festival Friday afternoon. Plotkin played MeadowGrass two years ago, appearing with standouts Free the Honey band plying us with dazzling harmonies and musicianship from Western State University of Gunnison.
Local flatpickin’ bluegrass trio Mike Maddux & The Headliners play their first MeadowGrass. Maddux, a past award winner at the legendary Winfield National Flatpicking Championship, he also penned a column for Flatpicking Guitar Magazine. Mike plays in both the city and in mountain venues, and he also sustains a jazz career.
The Steel Wheels out of Virginia play almost-bluegrass with fast-paced guitar-bass-banjo-drums, joined by horns and drums and often keyboard. The band received Indie Music Awards, Americana category, for Best Song and for Best Album, They regularly take the stage at the Walnut Creek Music Festival at Winfield Kansas. The Tejon Street Corner Thieves close Friday night with their vaudevillian raunchgrass. A Pikes Peak Region staple, they also regularly play a circuit through Kansas-Missouri and tour out to Idaho-Washington-Oregon.
Saturday afternoon begins with two local singer-songwriters—sultry country songster Sandy Wells, followed by Edith of Colorado Springs’ Edith Makes a Paperchain. Texas-based Blue Water Highway Band liven things with their rhythmic indie-country vocal harmonies, accordion and drums.
Tallgrass play tunes that range from Kansas-style dirt-stomp to eloquent ditties. They perform at Front Range BBQ in west Colorado Springs a couple times a year. Grass It Up bluegrass return—the guys who popularized local bluegrass during their dozen-plus-years career in the Pikes Peak region. Their electric acoustic set with cigar-box instruments handcrafted by banjoist Jim Marsh was a memory-maker at MeadowGrass four years ago.
Funky folky Musketeer Gripweed bring along their “kindness factor.” The philosophy of peace and activism was created by bandleader “Reverend” Jason Downing, who teaches sociology at Colorado State University.
Saturday night headliner Ron Pope is a troubadour crooner raised in Marietta, Georgia. He plays all-original material around the country, alone and accompanied by a folk trio.
MeadowGrass continues its songwriting tradition with Sunday morning’s three songwriters-in-the-round, acousticians Edie Carey, Justin Roth and Sarah Sample. Indie-folk quartet Wild Rivers from Toronto roam between unplugged acoustic and all electric with drums.
Birmingham-birthed Banditos tickle the banjo, tap the drums and carry on with electric guitar, kazoo, tambourine and campy lyrics. Their specialty? Unleashed roadhouse played by six-piece honky tonk band spiced with Mary Beth Richardson’s sizzling vocals.
Nicki Bluhm caps Sunday evening with her new four-piece band. The alt-folk songstress has shared the stage with Ryan Adams and The Infamous Stringdusters, and she toured and recorded with her band The Gramblers, 2008-2014. Her “Remember Love Wins” became an anthem last year during the immigration protest.
Sunday after sundown Clem Hammond & The B3’s bring their boisterousness to the stage. The alter-ego of two strong Colorado Springs singer-songwriter-bluesmen Grant Sabin and Joe Johnson. Both play solo at Palmer Lake’s SpeedTrap acoustic cafe and also play large stages with impeccable bands.
So come on down and MeadowGrass with us. I’m going with eyes wide open since I realize I saw Nathaniel Rateliff perform in 2015 before he got huge.
By Natalie Gorak
What a snow filled and bluegrass-laden weekend it was! Friday’s festivities kicked off with three separate bands playing in the heated tents while breweries served up fresh samples for festivalgoers.
Local Steamboat Springs band, Buffalo Commons, played to an energetic crowd before Jon Stickley Trio kicked things off on the main stage. Trout Steak Revival picked up where Jon Stickley Trio left off and filled the festival grounds with high-energy bluegrass, playing many tunes off of their latest album.
Trout Steak’s guitar and mandolin player Steve Foltz noted that staying warm at an outdoor winter festival is not as difficult as one might imagine; some thermal layers, a hat and the right amount of whiskey is all you need.
Friday night began to wind down with a main stage show from Elephant Revival, whose sound will be greatly missed while they take a hiatus this year, and was closed out with a high energy Yonder Mountain String Band set. Fat snowflakes filled the air as night one drew to a close.
Saturday was another stacked day of music with Wisconsin based Horseshoes & Hand Grenades kicking off main stage music at 3:00 p.m. The Lil Smokies followed on the main stage, while Billy Strings and others played the heated tents as festivalgoers sampled beer for a second day.
Fruition played the first of two shows as the sun set on day two, and Greensky Bluegrass closed the main stage with a rocking “Burn Them” rendition featuring guests Jay Starling (Dobro), and Andy Dunnigan (Dobro) and Allie Kral (fiddle).
The night did not end there though, as The Lil Smokies played a late night show, in which attendees boarded one of the ski hill’s gondolas and rode through a winter storm up the mountain to a high energy 90+ minutes of bluegrass.
Day three dawned sunny and warmer than the previous two, and by the afternoon musicians and attendees alike were ready to end the weekend with as much energy as it started. Billy Strings played the main stage to a large crowd and played various songs off his new album, including the album’s title song “Turmoil & Tinfoil.”
The Travelin’ McCourys held the second to last spot on the main stage and got the crowd nice and warm with their unique blend of traditional bluegrass and jamband-esque sound. Leftover Salmon closed WWG’s main music area with a reggae/bluegrass/rock mashup, complete with WWG founder Scotty Stoughton (of Bonfire Dub) lending his voice to the vocals. The music officially ended at a late night show held at the Grand Ballroom, where The Travelin’ McCourys and Fruition played to a sold out crowd.
The weekend was chocked full of sit-ins, fast pickin’ and jams that define the Colorado bluegrass scene, and all who attended could feel the camaraderie and energy that only comes from a shared sense of love for the music.
Looking for an awesome day camp that will get your string students jamming, playing by ear and LOVING their orchestra experience?
Pickin in the Peaks is in its 5th year of offering international level bluegrass jamming, playing and singing instruction to campers and families of ALL ages and ALL abilities (even beginner beginner) in the Front Range of Colorado, tucked in the hills of our favorite little mountain town in Boulder County...Nederland!
This year, we feature Canadian songbird Tracy Lynn (guitar/vocals), east Tennessee educator Jodi Harbin (mandolin/vocal harmony) and longtime camp director Annie Savage (fiddle/viola/cello) with Colorado Music Society president Kevin Slick (guitar/song-writing) housed in the beauty and convenience of the Nederland Presbyterian Church and beyond!
Starting each day at 9:00am with a community breakfast and jam, each camper will enjoy one hour sessions each of focus instrument (guitar, fiddle, mandolin, banjo, bass, viola, cello or voice) plus an hour of secondary interest (song-writing, vocal harmony, improvisation techniques and more) each day!
There are lots of opportunities for jamming each day and students are invited to bring a lunch to eat while they get a performance from each of the instructors over the noon hour.
On the last day of camp all participants are invited to lunch with us at the great Kathmandu restaurant and participate in our camp concert!
It's a four-day intensive experience filled with music, laughter and sun that will kick start your festival season! Ages 8-100+ and discounts provided for multiple family members. Register today for an early bird discount that runs through May 15 or drop off your deposit and finish payment on the first day of camp.
To sign up, ask any questions, make special requests...contact Annie at email@example.com.
VIVA COLORADO BLUEGRASS!!
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I’ve gotten a couple of music books in the mail recently and springtime (and really, any time) is a great time to learn a new instrument or build your skills on whatever you’re currently playing, sitting out on the porch enjoying the longer days and later sunsets. I’ll start by taking a look at Wayne Erbsen’s book on clawhammer banjo. Like most players of “an age” I grew up learning tunes from various instruction books going all the way back to Pete Seeger’s classic How to Play the 5 String Banjo. This was of course before the days of the internet or even video cassette players, which led me to ask the following question as I cracked open this book: “Are music instruction books obsolete in this day and age?". and if not, "What place do they occupy in the world of music instruction or how best can they be used?"
I believe the answer to my first question is “No” and I’ll endeavor to share my answers to the follow up question by looking at this instruction book. The book is laid out in a thoughtful way, the print is large enough to read easily, and that’s not just a factor for some of us more senior members of the community, the layout is easy to follow or scan.
One of the benefits of a book like this is that you can easily peruse the pages to find something that interests you, skip back and forth between songs or stories and easily find what you’re looking for. Another word about the layout – I appreciate the fact that the songs, with that large easy-to-read tab and lyrics appear on one page. With the spiral binding you can flip open the book to the song you’re working on and even play outside on a windy day without the pages flapping and flying around.
One of the great joys of Wayne Erbsen’s books is the wealth of stories and background information on the songs. His books read like an old friend in casual conversation. The book opens with background information on the banjo and it’s place in old time music. The basic vocabulary, from songs versus tunes to pull-offs, hammer-ons and such are all covered succinctly. There are plenty of tips on getting the proper sound and making the playing experience more enjoyable. A CD is included with mp3 recordings of all the techniques as well as the songs. You could easily load the 78 tracks onto your iPod for practice, or choose a few to work on at a time which is what I did. The songs are played slowly and then a little faster. The melodies are tabbed out in a very straightforward manner, you get the melody loud and clear. Erbsen describes it as teaching the “Naked skeleton of the songs”. I appreciate this kind of arrangement because any player, myself included, is going to add their own touches to the song and for a beginner being able to clearly hear the melody is essential. While this books is oriented towards a total beginner on the banjo, a more seasoned player might pick it up for the songs.
Once you’ve mastered the basic techniques you’re invited by the author to play the songs in any order you like. For a total beginner this book gives you in a few pages a solid foundation on clawhammer banjo techniques and song structures that you can expand upon.
Toward the end of the book there’s information on jamming and playing with others. Again, Erbsen does a great job of condensing the vital information into a few enjoyable pages. I’ve been playing for decades and teaching for a long time as well and I enjoyed reading his comments on “Jamology” as well as the stories about all the songs. I’ve been a fan of Wayne Erbsen’s books for some time now, his Rural Roots of Bluegrass book is one I recommend to anyone getting into the genre as a player or just a fan.
Clawhammer Banjo, Tunes, Tips and Jamming is a excellent addition to any music library. If you’re a beginner this is a friendly place to start and if you’ve been playing for a while, here’s a set of songs to enjoy plus some wonderful stories and background information you might have missed along the way.
This review ran a while back but I thought it might be nice to reprint it here as we're updating our website and some of you might have missed it the first time around.
Some albums sound as if the artist labored over every nuance, every second of sound, polishing each note to a perfect sheen while others sound like a spontaneous, passionate, intimate letter written to a close friend. Both extremes on the spectrum have their qualities and charms and there are many examples of either end of that continuum, but to find a recording that combines the best of the precise and the passionate to a rare thing indeed.
Happy Little Trees by KC Groves is such an album, one that brings a smile of recognition from shared emotions and familiar sounds as well as admiration for the unique arrangements.
Groves has assembled a veritable Who’s Who of contemporary acoustic musicians, many of whom are either based currently or who have roots in the dynamic and diverse Colorado Front Range music scene. While I wouldn’t necessarily claim that Colorado has influenced Groves as a writer, I think it’s fair to say that the album showcases what is best about the music scene here in the Rocky Mountains – a deep respect and soul drawn from traditions that grows from the cross-pollination of various music forms, expressions and directions.
On the opening track “Northern Lights” the band creates an atmospheric glow that combines familiar chord changes with reverb heavy pedal steel and vocals that seem lighter than air. That feeling returns on “Annabelle”, both songs play out like a little movie, the images created as much by the words as the soundscapes. On tracks like ”Bluebird”, “Little Rain” or “Electric Peak” the sound is much more traditional old time music where the contributions of players like Riley Baugus, Oliver Craven and Steve Smith really shine. “I Can’t Quit You” is pure country, or to be more precise, country music as it used to sound.
This is an album to listen to, which may seem obvious, but some recordings are used to document a particular performance or provide merchandise for sale at gigs and while there’s nothing wrong with either of those approaches, a recording that is presented in sequence to be enjoyed as a whole package is something special. While the songs are all written, co-written or adapted by Groves, she seems to be as much the producer or invisible guiding hand to this project as a star in the spotlight. This is not unexpected of course. Looking at the career of KC Groves you’ll notice plenty of brilliant work from projects like Uncle Earl or Jeff Scroggins and Colorado, in each case Groves was contributing integral elements to the overall sound but always as a part of band, one of the team and her solo album is very much the same, the assembly of a fantastic team of musicians who, together craft something special.
At the risk of reading too much into the title “Happy Little Trees” which references the public television artist Bob Ross, I’ll suggest that there are a few possible connections. This album flows together like a well selected art show, where each work compliments the others and yet each is unique. Also, the TV show sought to make beautiful art accessible to a wider audience and this album is equally inviting and accessible, providing many opportunities to connect to and discover beauty.
The Colorado bluegrass community will enjoy a rare treat when Lyons local Sally Van Meter takes the stage to headline the February 24 "Bluegrass at the Audi" concert. Sally is widely known for her slide talent on the steel and resonator guitars, and for her expertise in the recording studio. She earned a GRAMMY for her work on The Great Dobro Sessions and can boast quite an impressive resume as a performer, studio musician and producer. She’s also known as quite a private, humble person, and one who generally doesn’t seek the limelight for herself. We certainly feel privileged to host her at the Audi.Read More
The rhythm of art
By Jan Peterson
In this electronic age everything, it seems, is digital. Bluegrass instruments are a wonderful exception to that particular rule, allowing the nuanced resonances of “wooden box” amplification (pioneered centuries ago) to produce the sweet sounds we have been conditioned to expect from our wood and metal instruments.
We have given a nod to electrification by adding microphones, in order to pick up the subtleties of natural over-tones produced by vibrating strings and less-strenuously project that music to a listening audience. And what a godsend it is to be able to vocally project throughout an auditorium, or an outdoor field full of people, without having to over-strain our vocal chords: ain’t mics wonderful?
With digitalization comes precision: for example, in the Olympic Games, contests between athletes can be decided by one-hundredths of a second! But in a musical presentation, on the other hand, absolute timing accuracy is not necessarily a good thing: it can, in fact, make a musical composition come off as overly machine-like and un-human. But not keeping a reasonably regular rhythm is at least equally disturbing. This question of how to balance repetitive precision with artistic freedom, pitting accuracy against interpretation, has been around for as long as there has been music.
Early on (well before the electronic age) there were no “regular” beats available as a reference, so people got creative: they used their own pulse (heart beat rhythm) to judge “regular” timing. This idea of regular timing is especially critical for large groups of musicians attempting to play together. I think that’s why conductors were invented: to force orchestral musicians to share the same beat, as directed by the conductor’s waving wand. But orchestral musicians had to pay close attention to the conductor, because there was no such thing as a “regular” beat—except for short-duration episodes within an overall composition; there were “movements” which varied in all kinds of ways, including rhythmically.
By the eighteenth century, composers were using terms like “Andante” (which is Italian for “walking”) to invoke a somewhat shared experience of repetitiveness in order to establish a “proper” timing. Terms like “Tempo di Minuetto” made reference to an established organized dance, where the dance movements, themselves, dictated a rhythm to be shared. If they had comedy back then, I’m sure it would have included the idea of an off-tempo (up-tempo) interpretation of organized dance timing that would have left the poor dancers frazzled (think of Groucho, Larry & Moe sharing conducting responsibilities). So, some progress was being made on the “regular” timing front, but it was all still very subjective.
In the age of enlightenment, attempts were made to link rhythm to the movements of a clock. When someone discovered that the length of a pendulum affects the speed of its motion, instrument makers seized upon that new understanding to create the classical clock-like metronome, with a sliding weight on a thin metal bar, so that it will swing back and forth in a regular rhythm dictated by the exact placement of the weight along the length of the bar. Thus, a truly steady beat of “X” beats per minute could be established with accuracy. And now, of course, we have digital metronomes that can churn out a steady rhythm with extreme precision.
Which just gets us back to our original dilemma: rhythmic accuracy? Or artistic license? Well, we know that going to either extreme ALL the time is problematic. I do know someone who wants to “get out ahead” of the beat. The problem is that doing that all the time means speeding up! But thinking through that issue made me realize, like many problems, what this problem needs is a solution that doesn’t buy into the “either/or” approach espoused above.
The answer is to do both, instead of trying to choose only one, turn an “either/or” into a “both/and” solution. It’s just that “coordination” needs to be added into the equation; you keep a steady beat for some period of time before you vary the rhythm, or jump around, in front of, or behind, the rhythm. And then repeat, or vary your repetition so that it doesn’t seem like repetition. Or... you come up with some idiosyncratic interpretation of how to combine these elements.
I think “mixing it up” is a good way to introduce variety—as opposed to just monotonous repetition, or just a-rhythmic/non-rhythmic exuberance—and get to experience them all, within an over-all unifying framework. No, not ALL the time, of course, it’s best to stay away from the extremes. Selections of different combinations of the musical options available to you (or invented by you), all deliberately chosen to coordinate with the emotions being evoked vocally, that’s the trick!
And HOW you do all that is what makes “art.”
And, yes, there are always exceptions to [any] rule.
The Gary We Knew
By Lisa Astrella
Gary Barker was my partner in bliss and folly, as we pursued a mutual adoration for bluegrass music with our band Loose Cannon Bluegrass. What started around a kitchen table, ended up taking us all over this gorgeous state, and on to Kentucky, where we played at ROMP in honor of Bill Monroe’s 100th birthday. With Gary behind the scenes tirelessly booking, organizing and maintaining a web site, we grew the band over more than 8 years, and had the privilege of working with many talented and generous musicians.
Gary first arrived on the Colorado bluegrass scene in 2004. We all met him at the White Fence Farm Thursday night jam, back in the day. He had retired from teaching and had relocated here from Saginaw, Michigan, with his wife, Jean. They followed their daughter Molly, who was just starting her family. We soon discovered that he was a great Dobro player, and a quick study. We would later learn the full and formidable depth of this remarkable human being.
There was not a corner of Gary’s brain that he didn’t fill with knowledge, and then share it with anyone who had the good sense to listen. He wasted not a moment on this Earth, as an educator, scientist, athlete, musician, devoted husband and father. A former Teacher of the Year, he built his own seismometer and regularly kept up with tectonic activity around the globe. Gary could and would give us updates on earth movements that hadn’t yet hit the news.
We spent a lot of road time, travelling from gig to gig, and there is a stretch of highway, between Colorado Springs and Cañon City, that will forever remind me of him. He explained the rock formations on either side of the road, and why one was older than the other, by so many million years. Yet another thing he knew off the top of his head. Colorado was a geologic playground for him, with boundless opportunities to learn and explore.
I remember one conversation in which he explained the statistical improbability of ever being born, and how so many things had to go right over a multitude of generations. It was part of a commencement address he used to give to the thousands of students he’d influenced along the way. He said, “Against the odds, you were born. You’ve already hit the jackpot.” The unspoken extrapolation was, “Now, what are you going to do with it?”
Self-effacing, humble, quietly doing the work, while encouraging those around him to shine, that was Gary. He dedicated his life to the betterment of others. He had a great sense of humor, a laugh that seemed to start in his bones, and quirky little habits that would spring out of him when he was particularly happy or excited, like rapidly rubbing his hands together, or raking his picks across the Dobro strings.
Family was the world to Gary. Growing up in Middletown, Ohio, he was the baby, behind older siblings Marvin and Mary. He and Marvin had a bond that is only cultivated after a lifetime of fun-loving chicanery. They perfected the art of the “non-joke” which is something that the dismayed listener would have to experience, in order to fully understand. For them, it was a knee-slapping, howling good time.
With Gary, we got the gift of the whole Barker clan: Jean, and their daughters Molly and Corrie, granddaughters Audrey, Annika and Layla Jean, as well as sons-in-law Eric and Adjmal. They are the silent heroes in this story. They supported us at our gigs, and were his life, his backbone, his strength, during the grueling months, his inner circle that propped him up when it all seemed too much. They will need time and healing of their own.
Gary, this is how your band mates describe you:
- Marte Meyer: Steadfast, kind and smart
- Eric Grace: Dependable, Professional, Gifted songwriter
- Ernie Martinez: Warm, Humorous, Genuine
- Jim Fischer: Engaging, Enlightening, Encouraging
Gary, my dear friend, we hit the double-jackpot; first for having been born, and again for having known you. Yes, you. See you in the starscape.
With much love,
Lisa Lombard Astrella