Mid-Winter Bluegrass, here we come!

Mid-Winter Bluegrass, here we come!

Yes, it is, once again, time for Ken Seaman’s much-anticipated Mid-Winter Bluegrass Festival, starting today, February 15, and running through Sunday the 17th at the beautiful, not-downtown Northglenn Ramada Plaza & Convention Center at I-25 & 120th Avenue, north of Denver. 

Read More

CBMS Awards Rockygrass Academy Scholarship for 2019

As part of its mission to support and promote the bluegrass music scene and bluegrass aficionados and musicians across Colorado, every year the Colorado Bluegrass Music Society awards a scholarship that covers the cost of attending the ever-popular RockyGrass Academy held each summer in Lyons.

CBMS is pleased to announcement that this year we'll be sending Jennifer Archer to study bluegrass vocals at the Academy. Jen's essay described her work as an educator and performer. She is entering her sixth season of founding, establishing and nurturing a bilingual arts education school called Ascential Language & Arts School (ALAS), which was founded December 2012 in Ometepe, Nicaragua.


Jen has been a part of the local jam scene and worked to incorporate bluegrass into her work with schools both here and in Nicaragua so we're happy to help her on her bluegrass journey.

Here is her winning essay:


It is with hope, excitement and gratitude that I write you this application letter for a RockyGrass 2019 Scholarship.  I would like to be considered as a vocal student candidate, representing our diverse, creative and gifted Colorado community.  

In May 2010, I was invited to be a part of a concert series with my professional dance company called Ascential Dance Theatre Colorado (ADTC).  We were asked to collaborate, opening for Taarka during Elephant Revival’s CD release, with the GypsyGrass Fusion band, The Gristle Gals. At the time, I was heavily into creating World Fusion choreographic works using Celtic, Folk and African contemporary and traditional songs.  In the first concert in the series, we were partnered with a local, 5-piece band called Noodle Soup led by Adrian Bradford Alexander. That night was the first time I had ever seen BlueGrass music performed live. I was instantly enchanted. A few months later, and after mentioning how much I have always wanted to sing, I found myself in the studio with Mitchell Ryan rehearsing my very first vocal tune, “There Ain’t No Easy Way” by Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott (Real Time/2000).  As if the challenge were not daunting and intimidating enough, I continued on to play my very first, ten-song live show as a vocalist on New Year’s Day 2011 at The Skylark Lounge in Denver. Mitch has become a long-term artistic collaborator, and eventually my band mate, in BabyWood HatBox, Dust Stompers and El Huracan y Los Ojos. All of these projects are working regularly in Denver and Boulder, featuring our beloved BlueGrass influence in some form. 

I started attending open BlueGrass jams (Int/Adv) in 2011 and cut my teeth under the supervision, direction and subtle criticism of the Littleton pickers (Majestic Dental meetups, eventually manifesting into the Jake’s Jam).  While running two businesses and homeschooling my son Jeylin, I managed to quickly learn almost 100 songs in one year. Because I began working as a professional choreographer at age 12 in 1985, I have a unique gift for being able to swiftly memorize song structures.  In the short eight years I have been hustling my vocal/musical desires and skill set, I have had the privilege of playing songs on stage with the likes of The Sweet Lillies, Chris Thompson/Coral Creek, Bill McKay/True Blue Band, Tyler Grant/Grant Farm, Dust Stompers, Mountain Strange, The Gristle Gals, Dee Dee & the Shakers, Last Sheets on the Roll, Evolucion, El Huracan y Los Ojos and my own band BabyWood HatBox, to name a few.

I am a graduate of Florida State University (Interdisciplinary Social Science, 1997) and I am an arts anthropologist, researcher, lecturer, producer, writer, director and career educator with experience in developing programming specifically designed to suit the needs of any community that calls on my services. For most of my life and career, I have been known as a dancer, choreographer and school director.

Currently, I am entering my sixth season of founding, establishing and nurturing a bilingual arts education school called Ascential Language & Arts School (ALAS), which I founded in December 2012 on Ometepe, Nicaragua - a dual volcano island located in the middle of Lago Cocibola/Lake Nicaragua.  Even Mark Twain has visited and written about the island! Commencing with eleven Kindergarten students in the village of Merida, ALAS now serves over 250 students in six different villages annually. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the world and our classes are tuition-free to anyone who attends. Our students learn English and Spanish through Dance, Art, Music, Yoga, Martial and/or Theater. ALAS is the only program of its kind to ever operate on Ometepe and now features programs in the US. All of these blessings combined are beyond what I ever imagined for my life and work.

While building this dream, my family of three has lived without power, internet, running water, flooring, beds, cars and even a refrigerator in order to provide these vital services to our “Isleno” friends and family.  Local schools have now started offering us positions as full-time developers and collaborators, featuring specific focus on American arts traditions. Now embraced as members of the local community, our return is anticipated annually.  It is widely known that we represent the great state of Colorado and we are frequently referred to as “NicaRados.” Our next tour we plan to venture further into the process of building teacher housing intended to host our growing annual roster of Colorado and Florida guest professors.  

One of the most colorful truths about this experience is that my husband bought me a washboard for my birthday in 2012 and I ended up washing clothes on it for six months while living a half mile up a volcano! Living “off-grid” is not easy, but our family has highly developed survival and construction skills.  Because of our commitment to our school and lives on Ometepe, and the fact that we cannot yet legally work in Nicaragua, we have to be extremely vigilant about saving and raising money while in the United States. ALAS is a humbled, triple recipient of Burners Without Borders competitive grant award, this year receiving one of twenty four grants out of 340 global applicants.  All fundraising monies go toward ALAS construction projects.

My husband Jamey, our son Jeylin and I are focused and committed to continuing to enrich ourselves through artistic education experiences that we can bring back to our beloved Nicaraguan communities.  BlueGrass culture has enveloped us and we are hungry for a deeper understanding and study. There are only two professional bands on Ometepe and I am a guest artist (vocalist/percussion) in both of them, performing traditional and popular cover songs in both English and Spanish.  I am often asked to share my BlueGrass talents. These treasured opportunities have provided ALAS a vehicle to reach more families, students and potential venues for classes and performances. I am a native English speaker who chose to learn Spanish fluently in order to better serve my students in Nicaragua.  

I believe I am a strong candidate for a 2019 RockyGrass Scholarship because the unique, priceless training I will receive will be implemented into my diverse outreach, educational and professional performing opportunities. Thank you for your time and consideration. 

Best indeed,
Jennifer Archer


My Top Ten Bluegrass Albums of 2018

After Pick, A Pow’r Pickin’ Column

By David Smith

1 - 3. Top Three, in no particular order:

Town MountainNew Freedom Blues
Bobby BrittAlaya
Songs From The Road BandRoad to Nowhere

That’s right, coming in at #1 in bluegrass for 2018 is a tie among three albums. I’m a huge fan of the ol’ five-disc CD changer and recently put these three in rotation (along with Tyler Childers’ 2017 release, Purgatory, and some ‘70s-era Marshall Tucker Band). I often had a hard time distinguishing one from the others. 

If you have a day ahead in your life with plans to be around the house, starting into a few beers in the early afternoon, as you work toward the backyard grill with friends stopping over – I couldn’t recommend this mix more. I’m sure there’s a five-disc changer at your local pawn shop, you should damn well already have Purgatory, and Marshall Tucker Band’s A New Life can be ordered at your nearest record store. 

And for a few words on each of these “tying-for-first” best bluegrass albums of 2018: I admit with no shame that Town Mountain has made my “Top 10” list every year that they’ve put out an album. The reason is quite simple: they’re the best. Ha. Please don’t take this as demeaning the fluid jams of the Infamous Stringdusters or the dark and truthful songwriting of Greensky Bluegrass or the rock of Leftover Salmon

I’d make a bet that the musicians of those groups would agree when it comes to life on the road, straight-ahead lonesome original songwriting with a heavy lean toward that honky-tonk early bluegrass sound, Town Mountain is the best. And that’s the sound I love. 

Bobby Britt. Photo by Libby Gamble.

Bobby Britt walks the line. He’s young and he’s seasoned. He’s old-time and he’s bluegrass. He’s technical and he’s natural. His album, Alaya pulls these juxtaposing forces together with each bowing note and lingering, melodic line. Additional treats on the album include Andrew Marlin on vocals, as well as Allison de Groot on clawhammer banjo (distinct and pronounced throughout the recordings). As fans of Mandolin Orange know, Marlin’s vocals are haunting, crying, yet laidback, while delivering a song as a story to hold on to and remember for its lessons to learn.   

With Charles Humphrey III leaving a steady gig to tour with his bluegrass brethren of Songs From The Road Band, they have become a road-warrior, live-in-concert version of what many have known only as an under-the-radar outlet for Charles’ original songwriting prowess. 

Even with the under-the-radar nomenclature, Songs From The Road Band has hardly been resting on the laurels of Charles’ success with the Steep Canyon Rangers, or sitting idle until his next muse might happen by – this is their fourth release, with the first dating back to 2006! Like previous releases, Road to Nowhere brings together the superb talents of Charles’ cowriters (Jim Lauderdale, Shawn Camp, Phil Barker) and musician friends from decades in bluegrass music (Andy Thorn, Robert Greer, Jon Stickley). 

Here we also find the common thread (fiddle string?) of our top three tying bluegrass albums of 2018: Bobby Britt.  


*Songs From The Road Band can be seen at the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown, April 12-14. 


4. Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey

John Duffey is like the Rodney Dangerfield of bluegrass: “I don’t get no respect!” His stage presence was also more in line with Dangerfield than the polished acts of his day. But I loved it, and I was honored to see it, many times growing up in Northern Virginia in the shadow of the Birchmere

The respect I’ve always had for John Duffey is spreading, both through this exceptional collection of music, and an upcoming biography, coauthored by non other than Country Gentlemen and Seldom Scene Duffey collaborator, Tom Gray

Epilogue is high on my list for a couple reasons: the nostalgia factor that I allude to, and the fact that the release is no “Greatest Hits” of catalog material. This is newly recorded bluegrass by the friends, musical partners and admirers of John Duffey – the best of the best – giving their epilogue to a late great. 


*Album contributors Sam Bush and Bela Fleck can be seen at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, June 22-24. 


5. Roland White and FriendsTribute to Kentucky Colonels 

Sometimes I wish I lived in Nashville just to happen into the Station Inn on random weeknights and hear Roland White pick and sing. While my observations are from afar, he seems to be like the house band there, performing often and with a rotating cast of band members and sit-ins, all anxious and honored to join the living legend in musical collaboration. 

And this sums up the release, one that should be called Roland White and Friends – Tribute to Roland White. While David Grier, Molly Tuttle and Billy Strings no doubt have brother Clarence channeled, in listening to the album every note sings out in honor of a true ambassador of the genre: Roland White. 

This release also deserves a shout out to another bluegrass ambassador, Jon Weisberger, who co-produced the release, plays bass, sings and helped gather many of today’s most standout musicians to contribute to this honest tribute. 


*Weisberger will be with his regular band, Chris Jones and the Night Drivers, in neighboring Utah, June 1-2 at the Ogden Music Festival


6. FY5 – The Way These Things Go 

I once made the bold statement that FY5 are the Hot Rize for the modern-day generation of bluegrass fans. That statement was not meant to declare Hot Rize as a thing of the past (I hope all readers were able to take in one of their 40th Anniversary shows), but instead the statement is meant to compliment FY5 to the highest degree. 

The group have the interplay, songwriting, tone, humble stage presence and skill of that fabled quartet – along with a modern (dare I say rebellious?) streak that’s all their own.    


*FY5 will be at the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown, April 12-14, as well as the Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass Festival, June 7-9.


7. David Davis and the Warrior River BoysDidn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole

Making the list due to my first love in bluegrass: the traditional, real deal, high lonesome sound. I place David Davis in a small group of players who truly bring forth traditional bluegrass in the modern day: Travers Chandler, Audie Blaylock, Danny Paisley, Junior Sisk, and with the passing of James King, that’s about it. And it doesn’t get much better than an old-time bluegrass musician covering the old-time songs of an old-time banjo player. 


*Good luck catching David Davis and the Warrior River Boys west of the Mississippi, but more information can be found at http://www.daviddavisandwrb.com.


8. Travelin’ McCourys – Self titled 

The Grateful Dead haven’t been covered this many times since Vassar sat in with Dead Grass. Though, like that late great fiddle master, the McCoury boys have reason to bring a Jerry Garcia favorite into the mix: they actually have history with the guy! And, unlike many, many Dead covers in the modern-day (unfortunately), they do these songs justice. On that note, the album is worth ten gold dollars for their nearly eight-minute cover of “Loser” alone. 


*The Travelin’ McCourys will be at the Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass Festival, June 7-9. Read Summers Baker’s concert review of The Travelin’ MCourys here.


9. Leftover SalmonSomething Higher

As previously stated, my first love in bluegrass is the traditional sound. But nowadays give me a smoky venue with cheep beer on tap, a kind stranger buying shots, friends gathering, a horizon of mountain peaks, snow in the forecast with accumulation just starting, a questionable place to stay for the night, my true love by my side, a Rockmount embroidered snap shirt, running into a dear friend I haven’t seen in years and Leftover Salmon on stage. 


*Leftover Salmon can be seen, heard, and felt at “Boogie on the Broadmoor” in Colorado Spring, March 22-24. 


10. HawktailUnless

I’ve never been a huge fan of instrumental, technically brilliant bluegrass (having always leaned more toward a grittier, vocal-driven style). But, every so often a recording comes out that shows me what I’ve been missing in not embracing this modern-day aspect of the genre. 

I realize that instrumental bluegrass albums have been released since the earliest days; I say “modern-day” because it seems like 10 years ago or so, a new movement came to bluegrass. I call it the, “Berklee Sound.” I’m referencing of course the hallowed halls of Boston’s Berklee School of Music, where young pickers have been graduating and bringing their flawless style to the national scene. 

With Hawktail you can hear the transition from the scholastic notes of the classroom, to the melodies, tone, and feeling that these hardworking musicians have learned in the school of life, on the road.    


*Although the band won’t be out west anytime soon, more information can be found at http://www.hawktailmusic.com


Concert Review: The Travelin’ McCourys with Pick & Howl and Scott Slay and the Rail

Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom December 15th, 2018

By Summers Baker

Paul Larson AND ANDREW gORDAN OF pICK & HOWL Photo by Scott Seifert

Photo by Scott Seifert

 On December 15th, the Travelin’ McCourys made their second appearance at one of Denver’s premier live music venues, Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom—almost exactly one year after their first appearance there. They were joined this time around by a strong delegation of Colorado bluegrass musicians comprising the two bands Pick & Howl and Scott Slay & the Rail. Both opening bands brought their own piece of Colorado bluegrass to the room.

Pick & Howl brought the high energy we’ve all come to expect from the Colorado jamgrass scene. The highlight of their set was an original tune called “Roses by Her Bed,” a rock anthem stitched together with a catchy melodic hook played by the Dobro.

Scott Slay & the Rail brought the more traditional side of the genre to the crowd, though they made sure to bust out one of the most iconic newgrass tunes, “Same Old River,” which had the crowd singing along. As with any show at Cervantes, the energy was high.

When the Travelin’ McCourys walked on stage, they were poised and confident. Ronnie McCoury looked around the crowd with his relaxed eyes like a head chef at the best restaurant in town. His younger brother, Rob McCoury, tuned his banjo on stage, smiling. The crowd filled their beers and partook in their various pre-show rituals, and then the McCourys launched into their first tune, sung by their fiddle player, Jason Carter.

COdy Kilby and rONNIE mCcOURY  Photo by Scott Seifert

COdy Kilby and rONNIE mCcOURY
Photo by Scott Seifert

I always laugh when I hear the McCourys live, because it is just hard to believe that each of those musicians is THAT good. Solo after solo, song after song, they just kept ramping up the energy. Their guitarist, Cody Kilby, flatpicked a solo in the first song, and I nearly had to pick my jaw up off of the floor. The same went for every musician up there. For that hour and a half, the five best bluegrass musicians currently in Colorado were all on stage together at Cervantes. I found myself laughing at some point in every song.

And then, just in case we forgot, Ronnie reminded us as he introduced his fellow musicians that almost every band member was IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) royalty. Every Travelin’ McCoury but Kilby has been awarded Instrumentalist of The Year in his instrument category. Ronnie himself has been awarded mandolinist of the year eight times by IBMA.

Ronnie made the rounds, listing off each member’s pedigree with that same whimsical chuckle we’ve come to know from his father, Del. After each introduction, the introduced musician showed the crowd what Ronnie meant when he said, “They are one of the best in the business.”

coDY kILBY  Photo by Scott Seifert

Photo by Scott Seifert

He introduced their bass player, Alan Bartram, who led a tune off of their latest record called “Hardest Heart.” Alan commanded the slow-tempo song with power and clarity, and his voice was reminiscent of that high-lonesome sound brought to fruition by the first generation of bluegrass musicians. Alan was my favorite musician to watch up there.

The musical highlight of the night for me was when, right after a couple of raging traditional tunes, the band dropped into a moody rendition of Bruce Hornsby’s “White Wheeled Limousine,” sung by the fiddle player, Jason Carter. The song was a stark departure from the more traditional sounds that I have come to know from the Travelin’ McCourys. The song incorporated twisted, jazz-like melodies and clearly orchestrated material stacked up against emotional, open-ended jams.

The McCourys have developed a reputation as being among of the bastions of the traditional bluegrass style in the 21st century. Their albums are grounded in the traditional sounds, and they pay close attention to how that sound is articulated to their listeners. The solos they take are all nods of respect to the great musicians of the mid 20th century. In their music you can hear Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Kenny Baker, Tony Rice and a whole host of other musicians that are responsible for the music that we love today.

Rob McCoury Photo by Scott Seifert

Rob McCoury
Photo by Scott Seifert

I was initially surprised to hear that a traditional bluegrass band was bringing their music to Cervantes, which has a reputation for throwing shows that are anything but quiet. Why weren’t The Travelin’ McCourys playing all over Colorado to seated, quiet crowds? Why was I watching Rob McCoury rip through a Scruggs tune through a haze of smoke?

The answer, for me, came at a moment in the show when Rob was rounding the corner on his fourth time through a solo. The crowd was dancing and yelling, and as he rounded that corner and drove the energy up another notch, I saw a few people in front of me stop dancing. They just stared in awe at the sonic madness coming from that banjo.

Yes, The Traveling McCourys are a traditional bluegrass band, but they have found a home in other arenas. When it comes down to it, playing to a crowd of party people is just downright fun, and I could see it on each of their faces throughout the night as we all rode that beautiful wave together.


CBMS Announces 2019 "Bluegrass at The Audi" Concert Series

CBMS Announces 2019 "Bluegrass at The Audi" Concert Series

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

Music Phraseology 101

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.

Pickin’ in the Grand Valley and Points Beyond

What’s Happenin’ on the Western Slope?

By Veta Gumber, aka Vetabluegrass


Live Performances

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!


June/July issue of Pow'r Pickin' - interview with The Rev from the Lil Smokies

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!

June/July issue of Pow'r Pickin' - Introducing Dave Bruzza of Greensky Bluegrass.

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!

June/July Issue of Pow'r Pickin' - feature article

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.

Who’s Who in Colorado Bluegrass: FolkWest’s Crista Munro

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?

Dan Appenzeller and Crista Munro
Dan Appenzeller and Crista Munro

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 crista@folkwest.com or phone 877-472-4672.

On the Northern Beat

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!

MeadowGrass Turns Ten and Oh, What A Line Up!

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.