2016 Philly Folk Fest Bluegrass Rundown

Folk! We’ve waited all year for this. Today, the Philadelphia Folk Festival returns to the Old Poole Farm for its 55th annual edition. And it looks like the Philadelphia Folksong Society is bringing its ‘A’ game in 2016,  with one of the strongest lineups in years—including a heavy dose of bluegrass. Here are some of this year’s bluegrass highlights. (Full schedule and tickets available at pfs.org.)

Friday

Marc Silver & The Stonethrowers

1:30PM, Lobby Stage

Damn Tall Buildings

3:00PM, Lobby Stage

Sparkle Pony

3:45PM, Lobby Stage

Saturday

Bluegrass Band Workshop

11:00AM, Craft Stage

Featuring Michael Beaky, Daniel S. Bower, Mike Hlatky, Isaac Stanford, Justin Stevenson, and Sarah Larsen.

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A Conversation with Del & Dawg

12:00PM, Culture Tent

Banjo Styles

1:30PM, Tank Stage

Featuring members of Groovemama, Marc Silver & The Stonethrowers, and Roger Sprung.

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The Stray Birds

8:30PM, Martin Guitar Main Stage

Del & Dawg

9:50PM, Martin Guitar Main Stage

The Wood Brothers

10:50PM, Martin Guitar Main Stage

Sunday

Old Time & Bluegrass Jam

1:00PM, Craft Stage

Featuring members of The Stray Birds, Roger Sprung & the Progressive Bluegrassers, Groovemama, and Festival Bluegrass Band.

Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives

6:45PM, Martin Guitar Main Stage

Summer 2016 Concert Roundup

Philly’s bluegrass fans will doubtless be spending much of their free time this summer camped in a field, using portable restrooms, and standing around in circles facing one another and holding instruments. But for those times they find themselves in the city, great bluegrass and roots music still won’t be far away, with several national touring acts coming through Philly and vicinity this summer.

June 16: Wood & Wire at Tin Angel
with Man About a Horse

Wood & Wire is putting Austin, TX bluegrass on the map, making appearances at the Grey Fox, Austin City Limits, and Old Settlers music festivals, and touring with Yonder Mountain String Band in 2013. Wood & Wire’s traditional, hard driving style should be a perfect fit for Philly’s famed listening room, the Tin Angel. Man About a Horse opens.

June 23: WXPN Welcomes Solstice Roadshow: A Night with The Stray Birds & Evie Ladin Band at Ardmore Music Hall

Lancaster’s The Stray Birds will have a homecoming of sorts when they visit the Ardmore Music Hall later this month. Word is the Birds have newly added a drummer to the mix (but we won’t hold that against them). Rounding out the bill will be Bay Area banjoist and vocalist Evie Ladin and her band.

July 13: Trout Steak Revival at Milkboy
with Quimby Mountain Band

Trout Steak Revival won the coveted Telluride Bluegrass Band Competition in 2014 (past winners include the Dixie Chicks and Greensky Bluegrass) and in 2015 released their first full-length record, “Brighter Every Day.” The band stops at Milkboy July 13 for an on-the-way-to-Grey Fox set, with New Jersey’s Quimby Mountain Band opening.

July 13: The Dustbowl Revival at World Cafe Live
with The Railsplitters

The eight-piece Dustbowl Revival refer to themselves as an “American roots orchestra” blending bluegrass, hot jazz, pre-war blues, and more. (The band says their sound was born after witnessing a Preservation Hall Jazz Band mashup with the Del McCoury Band.) The Revival is in the midst of an international tour that will take them as far away as Scandinavia and then back home to California. Excellent Boulder bluegrass quintet The Railsplitters open.

July 24: Old Crow Medicine Show at XPoNential Music Festival

One of the biggest names in acoustic string band music out there, Old Crow Medicine Show will pay Philly a visit as one of the Sunday evening headliners at WXPN’s XPoNential Music Festival. In fact, the entire fest is roots-heavy this year, with headliners including Ryan Adams, Alabama Shakes, Gary Clark Jr., and Brandi Carlile, to name just a few.

July 31: Sarah Jarosz at Ardmore Music Hall

At age 25, Sarah Jarosz already has quite a resume under her belt, including three full-length album releases. She’ll make it four this Friday when she releases Undercurrent on Sugar Hill Records. You can access an advance stream of the album at Consequence of Sound. You won’t want to miss this, Sarah’s last scheduled stop on the East Coast of her tour.

August 3: Leftover Salmon at Sellersville Theater

Leftover Salmon is back in the area after rocking the Ardmore Music Hall last fall. Check out our interview with Leftover Salmon bassist Greg Garrison from that show.

August 21: Gangstagrass at Milkboy

Bluegrass. Hip hop. Need we say more? Gangstagrass is known for throwing a great party, and this one at Milkboy should be extra-special, with Philadelphia being home base for the group’s two MCs, R-Son The Voice of Reason and Dolio The Sleuth. Banjo player Dan Whitener also performs with Philly’s Man About a Horse.

Interview with Michael Daves

On June 9, World Cafe Live will host one of the most-anticipated bluegrass acts of 2016, when Michael Daves brings his “Orchids and Violence” album release tour to Philadelphia. Fans will get the special chance to hear Daves perform in a trio format, along with two of the nation’s finest bluegrass musicians: Noam Pikelny (Punch Brothers) and Brittany Haas (Crooked Still, Dave Rawlings Machine). Our Matt Thomas caught up with Michael via email to ask some questions about the new album, the bluegrass jam culture, and what Philly bluegrass fans should expect on June 9. Tickets for the show are on sale now at worldcafelive.com.

Daves, Pikelny, and Haas backstage at The Bell House in Brooklyn, NY.

MT: Congrats on your new album, “Orchids & Violence!” Can you talk a bit about how you selected songs for this record? Were you looking specifically for songs that would work with both electric and acoustic arrangements?

MD: Thanks! Yes, I had the album concept 100% in mind when selecting songs. The goal was to record the same track list twice on two discs—one bluegrass and the other electric—and to have each album stand on its own, while making sure the two versions of each song had interesting contrasts. So it was a giant puzzle in terms of song choice and song order, and I kept reworking versions all the way through the recording process to get things to sit right. Of course in hindsight you always think of things you’d have done differently, but overall I’m pretty happy with the execution of the concept.

MT: “Orchids & Violence” pairs 90s-style rock (including a tremendous cover of Mother Love Bone’s “Stargazer”) with bluegrass. Why do you think these genres make such a good pairing?

MD: Well I don’t know that these two genres pair well, except for them both being part of my personal history—bluegrass from my family (my parents play fiddle and banjo and there was a lot of it in the house) and the 90s rock thing because it was what was happening around the time I first started having bands and looking to find my own musical voice. Back in the day those styles seemed to have nothing to do with one another, but in the course of this album project it became clearer how they both shaped who I am as a musician. So it became a personal statement, but also a statement on the adaptability of these old songs, many of which have been around since before there was bluegrass music.

MT: You’re known for running the First Monday Bluegrass Jam at Rockwood Music Hall, one of the better-known bluegrass jams in New York City. How did you get involved in that, and how important do you think the open jam scene is to bluegrass music?

MD: One of the great things about bluegrass music, and something that keeps the tradition strong, is that people of all stripes get together and play it for fun. It’s rare among musical styles to have people from beginner to professional assemble regularly in a public place to jam, but that’s what happens in bluegrass. It can be very inclusive, and facilitates passing the music along from person to person. You don’t have to go to school for it—you can just show up to jams and absorb. It can be especially meaningful in a big city like NYC or Philly, where jamming culture brings people together and provides a family-type feel where people otherwise might feel isolated or lost in the crowd.

MT: What albums or artists are you listening to the most these days?

MD: Recently I went on an early R.E.M. binge, listening to all seven of their 1980s releases in a row. That music is still so fresh, and bears little resemblance to the stuff they did from the 90s on. Having grown up in Georgia, it’s somewhat nostalgic for me as well. I’m also way into Dirty Three, and related projects Grinderman, Nick Cave, and PJ Harvey. Like everybody I’ve been floored with what Kendrick Lamar has been up to. On the bluegrass front, I can never get enough of the Stanley Brothers.

MT: We’re really excited to see you play at World Cafe Live in a trio format with Noam Pikelny and Brittany Haas. Is there anything different about your approach to playing in a trio, as opposed to in a full band?

MD: I’m super excited for this mini-tour with Noam and Brittany. I’ve worked with them each of them quite a bit in duos, and they are both part of the band on the new album. In full-band shows we’ve pretty much stuck to the arrangements from the recording which are not super complicated, but also don’t leave a lot of space to stretch out. Noam and Brittany are both incredible improvisers and great listeners, so the trio format is going to allow us to be lot more free and spontaneous with the album material. They can both turn on a dime, so I think these shows are going to be full of surprises.

Spring 2016 Concert Roundup

The trees are turning green here in Philadelphia, and the summer festival season is just around the corner. But the grass is already blue at venues all around the city this spring, with great shows coming to World Cafe Live, Tin Angel, Milkboy, the Keswick, Ortlieb’s,  the Colonial, and the Ardmore Music Hall. Here’s our roundup!

April 23: Sierra Hull
with Marc Silver and The Stonethrowers

If you missed her at the Sellersville Theater back in February, you’ll get another chance on April 23, when Sierra Hull visits World Cafe Live (downstairs). She’s sure to have with her copies of her new album Weighted Mind, which hit #2 on Billboard’s bluegrass chart. Opening is local favorite Marc Silver, who is currently preparing a new studio album of his own.

April 30: Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival
with Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, Keller Williams and the Travelin’ McCourys, Steep Canyon Rangers, and more.

Okay, this one isn’t in Philly, but since we sadly don’t have our own one-day, hip, downtown bluegrass festival, we’re giving it honorary status. Plus, area bands Cabinet, Colebrook Road, and Man About a Horse are on the bill, giving this up-and-coming festival just down the road a strong Philly connection. Tickets for this, the 4th annual edition of the festival, are available are at www.charmcitybluegrass.com.

April 30: Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen

Part of its monthly concert series, the Philadelphia Folksong Society welcomes Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen to the Tin Angel on April 30. Philly is one of the band’s first stops on its “Family, Friends & Heroes” release tour, after the album of the same name that dropped on March 4th on Compass Records.

May 1: Hot Buttered Rum
with Man About a Horse

San Francisco Bay Area jamgrassers Hot Buttered Rum visit Milkboy on May 1. It should be a full-on Sunday night dance party with Philly’s Man About a Horse opening.

May 9: Punch Brothers

The Atlantic‘s David A. Graham called them “your snobby bluegrass-fan friend’s answer to Mumford and Sons.” Detractors aside, you should make every effort to see the Punch Brothers at the Keswick Theatre this May, before Chris Thile begins his Prairie Home Convalescence this fall. The best part: the Bros will be reprising their “single mic” tour from December, with a lone Neumann U-89 microphone providing all amplification.

May 12: Damn Tall Buildings
with Man About a Horse

Berklee grads Damn Tall Buildings passed through Philadelphia last summer during their national tour, playing a packed house at the Tin Angel along with Philly’s Man About a Horse. The bands will team up again on May 12 at Ortlieb’s.

May 21: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Fresh off a 50th anniversary special that aired on PBS in March, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band visits the Colonial Theatre on May 21.

June 3: Mason Porter
with Frog Holler, Chris Grunwald and the Slow Response

On June 3 Mason Porter takes the stage at Ardmore Music Hall to celebrate the release of their second EP in 12 months, almost exactly a year since the release of 2015’s Key to the Skyway, which No Depression called “a leap forward in both confidence and sound for the band.” Frog Holler and “Griz” get the party started.

June 4: Steep Canyon Rangers
with Marc Silver and Friends

Many know them as Steve Martin’s band, but North Carolina’s the Steep Canyon Rangers are way more than that, as demonstrated on their recently-released album, RADIO, and their Grammy-winning 2013 effort, Nobody Knows You. The Rangers visit Ardmore Music Hall on June 4, with special guest Marc Silver and Friends opening.

Interview with Town Mountain’s Jesse Langlais

Asheville, North Carolina’s Town Mountain releases their new, Dirk Powell-produced album on April 1, and visits famed Philadelphia listening room the Tin Angel on Sunday, April 10. Our Matt Thomas interviewed Jesse Langlais (banjo and vocals) about the new record, the creative process, and influences.

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Photo credit: Sandlin Gaither

MT: Congrats on your upcoming album, Southern Crescent! How did you decide to go “old school” with the recording process, and did the end result live up to your expectations?

JL: Well, we perform live music and we thought it’s only fair to present that to our fans. We also love listening to and watching live music. There’s a certain element of community that goes along with roots music. It’s about being with friends and family, enjoying some food with one another, dancing, and playing music. For us it just made sense. That’s why we sought out one of the best roots musicians in the world, Dirk Powell, to be our engineer and producer.

MT: What’s it like being in a band with multiple songwriters? Do you collaborate at all, or is it more a situation where someone shows up with a finished product and everyone learns their parts?

JL: It’s great to have multiple songwriters. It makes us a more cohesive band if we feel we can all contribute artistically to an overall sound. We each have songwriters we collaborate with outside of the band. It’s not something that really happens within the band. However, you never know what the future may bring. We do all contribute to the arrangement of the song, which ultimately helps craft its direction. So, in a sense, we do collaborate together.

MT: What albums or artists are you listening to the most these days?

JL: Personally I’ve been listening to Chick Corea a lot. I’ve been listening to the new Larry Keel Experience album. I’m also in Mexico at the moment so I’ve been soaking up mariachi music and trying to find out about Mexican folk music such as Son Jarocho—which certainly shares elements with US folk music.

MT: One of your best-known songs is your excellent cover of Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire.” How did the decision to cover that song come about, and how do you go about putting your own spin on such a well-known tune?

JL: Robert came up with the idea and we’re glad he did. One day, in the van, he mentioned that it would work well in a bluegrass setting. He was right! Still to this day that song gets recognized. In fact, just last month it made The Atlantic‘s list of Most Transformative Cover Songs. If you, as a band, have your own unique sound then inherently it will have your “spin” on it. That’s all I can say to that. Aside from deciding to perform it and rearranging it a little, it just came out as it did.

MT: In your band bio, you seem to avoid calling yourselves a bluegrass band, but rather cite bluegrass as one of your influences. Do you consider yourselves bluegrass? What does “bluegrass” mean to you?

JL: Labels, schmabels. The music that a lot of us play, and I mean a lot, all comes from the same 12 notes. Jazz, bluegrass, rock, country, blues, adult contemporary easy listening… the list goes on. Yes, it is a conscious decision for us to not be corralled into one genre. We obviously LOVE bluegrass and collectively have listened to tens-of-thousands of-hours of it. But we have all spent equal amounts of time with other music. It certainly comes out in our collective sound so it’s not fair to just call us a “bluegrass” band. However, we certainly take pride in it when someone does. It’s hard to say what bluegrass means to me. It can mean Bill Monroe or it can mean a region in Kentucky or just real amazing music.

Winter/Spring 2016 Concert Roundup

As the number one live music city in America, Philadelphia has some truly outstanding venues for live music. This winter/spring they play host to what seems to be an inordinate number of great touring bluegrass/roots music bands, who will visit our fair—and of late, snow-covered—city. Check out the full list of local, regional, and national acts on our calendar.

Feb. 3: Greensky Bluegrass at Union Transfer

Guitar Player magazine called them “the punkest acoustic bluegrass band in America.” Sounds like a perfect fit for Union Transfer.

Feb. 4: Sierra Hull at Sellersville Theater

Her upcoming album has been getting a ton of press, including from Rolling Stone. The album drops on on January 29, but you can stream it now in its entirety at NPR Music.

Feb. 13: Keller Williams at TLA

Keller Williams has just about done it all in his career. This incarnation of his bandbeing billed as the “Keller Williams KWahtro” (yes, that means quartet)debuted earlier this month and includes some big-time jam band players. Almost as big a draw is sure to be Pennsylvania’s own Cabinet.

Mar. 10: Railroad Earth at Union Transfer 

New Jersey’s favorite jamgrassers have been at it since the first Clinton Administration. On March 10, they visit Union Transfer. Expect dancing.

March 25: Love Canon at World Cafe Live 

1980s covers, bluegrass-style. Need you know more? They rocked an opening slot for the Infamous Stringdusters on a prior trip to Philadelphia. You’ll get more of the same when they play World Cafe Live.

April 8: The Infamous Stringdusters at World Cafe Live

One of the biggest bands on not just the bluegrass scene but also the national jam band scene. They recently put out an all-covers EP, which included this Dylan tune.

April 10: Town Mountain at Tin Angel

Town Mountain, perhaps best known for their killer cover of our beloved The Boss’ I’m On Fire make their first visit to Philadelphia at Tin Angel, one of Philly’s best listening rooms.

April 21: 10 String Symphony at World Cafe Live

This duo seem to be in the process of blowing up. Their new album was featured on NPR’s All Songs Considered and hit #3 on Billboard bluegrass chart in November.

Interview with Leftover Salmon’s Greg Garrison

Leftover Salmon is coming to the Ardmore Music Hall on September 17. Our Matt Thomas scored an interview with longtime LoS bassist Greg Garrison, who shared his thoughts about touring, the band’s 25th anniversary, and playing in Philly. Purchase discounted (15%) tickets for the show using the code PHILLYBG at the Ardmore’s website.

Leftover Salmon photographed in Nashville, TN September 16, 2014©Jay Blakesberg
Leftover Salmon photographed in Nashville, TN September 16, 2014©Jay Blakesberg

MT: Congrats on your 25th anniversary! How do you keep a project together for so long, and what’s made Leftover Salmon so special throughout the years?

GG: Wow, 25 years! I’ve been with the band for 15 of those. I think we all enjoy hanging out and playing music together–and none of us take ourselves too seriously. Our fans are very loyal, which has been huge in terms of our longevity.

MT: You’ve worked with Breckenridge Brewery to put out some exclusive releases, and to put together the 25th anniversary Hootenany. What sparked this collaboration, and where did you get the idea to do the live album/rare beer combo package? We get Breckenridge in Philly, so is there a beer (other than your collab) that you suggest we try?

GG: We like great beer, and Breckenridge has been very supportive of us. Seemed like a no-brainer to combine forces with another Colorado organization that is turning 25 this year as well. We wanted to put out a live record with 25 tracks on it, and the marketing opportunity provided by Breckenridge in conjunction with the Silver Salmon Ale was too good to pass up. As far as other beers, I just had a Hoppy Pils from Firestone that was great.

MT: You’re spending a good chunk of time on the road this fall. Tell us a little about your fall tour, and please give us your three key ingredients to maintaining sanity while touring.

GG: I have no idea where we’re going this fall. I know there are some festivals and club dates, so it should be a blast. As far as sanity is concerned, I’m not sure any of us have maintained it. Which is part of why we still do this.

MT: Philly has been undergoing a bit of a music renaissance over the past few years, with tons of new venues popping up and artists breaking out. What has it been like playing this city over the life of your band? Have you noticed a shift in the scene at your shows?

GG: We haven’t played there nearly enough. It seemed like we had a good thing going when we would play at the TLA back in the day, but then we kind of stopped coming east as much, and things slowed way down for us in Philly.

MT: I had the pleasure of playing bass with most of your band at an all-night jam at this year’s DelFest. What motivates you guys to wrap up your set, then head out into the campground at these festivals and keep playing? And what festivals have the best jamming scenes?

GG: Well, since you were playing bass that means I wasn’t there, so I was totally unmotivated to keep playing! But I think we all like to have a good time and interact with a festival on a bunch of levels. Telluride and Rockygrass always have some good picking, as does Grey Fox. Festivals in the Southeast are always fun for us, since we have lots of good bluegrass buddies around there who usually have some good shine to keep the party going!