This Fall’s 10 Must-See Bluegrass Shows

It’s officially fall here in Philadelphia. That means it’s time to take stock of the touring acts coming through town this season. Luckily for us, there are too many for just one post, but don’t fret; the Philly Bluegrass Calendar has you covered with a full list. Or you could make scheduling easy on yourself and win the Bluegrass Passport Contest, which will award to one winner a pair of tickets to five hot bluegrass shows at the Ardmore Music Hall this fall. Prefer to order a la carte? Here are 10 tasty options for your consideration:

October 7: Sam Bush at the Ardmore Music Hall

The man often credited with originating the “newgrass” genre kicks of the Ardmore Music Hall’s stacked lineup of bluegrass shows, touring behind his new record, “Storyman” (Sugar Hill). Don’t forget to enter the Bluegrass Passport Contest by Friday, September 30 for a chance to win a pair of tickets to this and four other shows!

October 14: Sierra Hull at Tin Angel

Sierra Hull, who played World Cafe Live this summer, returns to Philly with two sets at Tin Angel, one of our favorite rooms for bluegrass music in the city. If you haven’t seen her perform lately, don’t miss the chance to see her and her incredible band, which features Edgar Meyer pupil Ethan Jodziewicz on bass and the multi-talented Justin Moses on, well, everything.

October 16: Yonder Mountain String Band at Ardmore Music Hall

Yonder Mountain String Band may be going on 18 years together, but the band is keeping it fresh, recently adding mandolin virtuoso Jake Jolliff (Joy Kills Sorrow). Yonder and the Ardmore Music Hall’s jam-friendly scene should make this one a hot ticket. Make sure not to miss the opener, Billy Strings, who is rocking the bluegrass world lately with his blazing-fast guitar picking. [**Bluegrass Passport show**]

October 22: The Grateful Ball feat. The Travelin’ McCourys + Jeff Austin Band at Ardmore Music Hall

The Travelin’ McCourys and Jeff Austin make AMH the third stop of their new “Grateful Ball” tour, which grew out of a successful experiment in St. Louis in June, according to JamBase. The plan is for each band to perform a set of their own, and then come together to perform a set of Grateful Dead songs. You can get a taste of what to expect below, with the McCourys performing “Cumberland Blues,” a studio recording of which they also just released. [**Bluegrass Passport show**]

October 28: Mipso at World Cafe Live

Mipso may not be as well-known a name in the bluegrass world as Bush or McCoury, but that just means you can catch Mipso in the intimate World Cafe Live Upstairs before they totally blow up. The band was nominated for an International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Band Momentum Award last month, and more accolades are almost surely in their future. Soul-ster Sam Lewis opens.

November 2: Chatham County Line at Tin Angel

There’s more great bluegrass at the Tin Angel this fall, when Chatham County Line passes through on November 4. Tight harmony vocals, well-crafted songs, and a wry sense of humor make these guys a ton of fun to watch. And their condenser mic setup should be a great fit for Philly’s famous listening room.

November 4: Mandolin Orange at Boot & Saddle

Mandolin Orange drops their new record this Friday, September 30. But if you’re like me you’ve already been listening to it for the past week on the Wall Street Journal‘s music blog, Speakeasy. And you’ve probably already scored tickets to this show.

November 6: Tony Trischka’s Early Roman Kings: The Music of Bob Dylan

Bela Fleck banjo mentor Tony Trischka (banjo, pedal steel), Stash Wyslouch (guitar, vocals),  Sean Trischka (drums, vocals), and Jared Engel (bass) play Bob Dylan songs. At the Tin Angel. What more do you need to know? Grab tickets here.

December 4: Dirk Powell & Riley Baugus at Crossroads Music

On December 4, the Crossroads Music series presents two masters of the old-time music genre in Dirk Powell and Riley Baugus. The pair met at a fiddler’s convention back in the 1980s, and continue to collaborate to this day, perhaps most notably on the soundtrack for the 2003 film Cold Mountain.

December 7: Front Country at World Cafe Live

Once known as the Bay Area’s favorite bluegrass band, Front Country recently decamped for Nashville, and was just named Nine Artists To Watch For At AmericanaFest 2016 by NPR Music. On December 7, they’ll be another example of a young, genre-pushing bluegrass band to visit World Cafe Live Upstairs, following Mipso’s October show.

Ardmore Music Hall Announces “Bluegrass Passport” Contest

PRESS RELEASE / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Becky Blumenthal
Ardmore Music Hall
610-649-8389
marketing@ardmoremusichall.com

Ardmore, PA, September 15, 2016 — The fast-approaching autumn concert season marks the launch of the first ever Bluegrass Passport Contest sponsored by the Ardmore Music Hall (AMH) and PhillyBluegrass.com. Through September 30, fans can enter for a chance to win a pair of tickets to AMH’s upcoming bluegrass shows at phillybluegrass.com/passport. Nationally touring acts including Sam Bush, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Travelin’ McCourys, The Jeff Austin Band, and Anderson East will be passing through Ardmore, PA this fall, as will local favorites Mason Porter and Hezekiah Jones.

GRAMMY winning newgrass artist and revered mandolin player Sam Bush kicks off AMH’s slate of bluegrass shows on October 7th. Sam, most known for the innovative work with his New Grass Revival band, expanded the strict structural limits of bluegrass music by fusing it with jazz, rock, blues, funk and other styles. Additionally, he is a frequent headliner at the annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado, earning him the nickname of the “King of Telluride.” With as many laurels as Sam has to rest on over the course of his decorated career, he remains humble and in touch with the youthful version of himself that propelled his ingenuity and creative drive.

Next on the lineup comes Yonder Mountain String Band, the quintessential progressive bluegrass quintet that, though it has gone through some reshuffling since the departure of Jeff Austin, has proven itself to be a name to be remembered within the bluegrass genre. Despite the changes, there has been no sign of slowed growth within the band. Their live shows remain ever changing and in constant renovation. This however, shouldn’t be taken as a negative. What is rendered is music that is always progressing and groundbreaking. Longtime fans of the group are keen on the band’s instrumental prowess, something to which violinist Allie Kral and mandolin virtuoso Jacob Jolliff have only added to. “At the end of the day, Yonder is a band with almost two decades of music under its belt, but we’re always a bit restless,” banjoist Dave Johnston had to say. “We want to move the music forward to new places, which keeps us on our musical toes.” YMSB will make their AMH debut on October 16th.

October 22nd will feature a doubleheader of newgrass as AMH hosts the Grateful Ball, featuring The Travelin’ McCourys and Jeff Austin Band. Both acts will be performing one set of their own tunes and then joining forces to share their own renditions of Grateful Dead songs. Jeff Austin of course got his big break with YMSB. But after twenty-plus years with the band, Austin has returned to the scene with a newfound sense of passion. Celebrated for his fleet fingers and penchant for improvisation on stage, he has cultivated his natural musical abilities and allowed himself to be driven by his boldest instincts. Partner that with the ultra-talented Danny Barnes on the banjo, as well as other renowned musical talents, and fans receive a completely revitalized live experience when seeing Austin on stage.

One would be hard pressed to find a band with the more credibility to play in both traditional and progressive bluegrass spheres than the boys of the Travelin’ McCourys. As the sons of bluegrass legend Del McCoury, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin and Rob McCoury on banjo continue to carry their father’s luminary torch by bringing bluegrass music that is uniquely their own to a new generation of listeners. Ronnie says, “We like to go in and play traditional bluegrass music the way we do it with Dad, but we also like to be able to step into situations where we can really stretch out. If we need to plug in, we’ll plug in. We’re open to anything.”

Then comes white hot rising star Anderson East on November 13th. The 27 year-old’s Soul-Americana outfit gained massive acclaim in 2015 after the release of his first full-length album, Delilah. Layered with triumphant brass sections, soulful textures of smokey organ riffs, and East’s fervid vocal performances, Delilah stirred the pot for things to come. His voice and aesthetic has drawn Ray LaMontagne and Joe Cocker comparisons and his high-energy shows have enthralled live audiences nation-wide.

Topping off the bluegrass bonanza with some local flavor, Philly favorites Mason Porter and Hezekiah Jones return to the AMH stage on December 10th. Rolling Stone recently described Mason Porter’s as “Bluegrass musicianship meets jam-band exploration, delivered with a self-confident Philly attitude.” With the ability to blend earthy, Appalachian instruments with more contemporary, urban-inspired rhythms, Mason Porter puts on an energetic and danceable live show night after night. Hezekiah Jones cruises down a musical path paved with wide-ranging inspiration. Incorporating Americana with infusions of an eclectic mix of New Orleans style Jazz, Harmonic Folk and Beatles-like Pop-Rock, the band’s creative limits are only set by their imagination.

For more information about our bluegrass passport contest visit phillybluegrass.com/passport and to purchase tickets to any of these shows, visit www.ArdmoreMusic.com.

The Ardmore Music Hall has established itself as a premiere landing spot for many renowned local and national touring musical acts. Features include a state-of-the-art sound system, a wide dance space, and 20+ craft beers on draught. The venue is located at 23 East Lancaster Ave, and is easily accessible by public transportation with the R-5 regional line. Visit the AMH website for the most up-to-date information regarding the venue and a full listing of upcoming events.

OPINION: Go to DelVal

This week the International Bluegrass Music Association announced that the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival (or DelVal, as it is affectionately known among its devotees) has been nominated for IBMA’s Bluegrass Event of the Year. Seems like word is spreading about this gem of a music festival. Since the secret’s already out, I’ll hop on the proverbial bandwagon and say it: you should go to DelVal.

Sure, there are hundreds of music festivals in America every year, leading Paste Magazine’s Eric Danton to wonder recently, “Have We Reached Peak Festival?” But look, DelVal is one of the originals. It’s been around for almost 50 years, and was founded by none other than Bill Monroe and Dr. Ralph Stanley. (And you thought Lollapalooza was old school!) In the past half century, just about everybody has played there. Go ahead: think of a trad bluegrass band. Bet you they’ve played DelVal.

History aside, when you consider that for a hundred bucks* you can camp for four nights, listen to three days’ worth of top-tier bluegrass bands, and, most importantly, jam until sunrise with old and new friends alike, it’s a pretty tough deal to beat.

* Rate goes up on August 30. You can buy advance tickets at delawarevalleybluegrass.org.

It’s even close enough to Philly that you could pop back home for essentials. Although, really, you shouldn’t have to, because (here’s the best part): DelVal has real bathrooms.

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The festival grounds are surrounded by working farmland.

This will be my third year attending DelVal, and I can say this year’s lineup looks to be hands down the best I’ve seen so far, with the likes of Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Claire Lynch, Compton and Newberry, and so many more. The GRAMMY Award winning Steep Canyon Rangers headline the Friday night lineup.

But even with that stellar lineup, the thing I’m looking forward to most is setting up camp, cracking open the cooler, picking up my Martin and playing until the callouses fall off my left hand. DelVal is simply one of the best jam parties of the year, where you can play with people of all ages and abilities. There are even those scary-good jams that, if you’re like me, make you want to quietly put your guitar back in its case and just enjoy listening.

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A few Philly pickers having a campsite jam at DelVal 2015.

Maybe music festivals are so abundant these days because people long for the shared experience of music in an age when music tends to be primarily experienced between a pair of white earbuds. If you’re a fan of festivals, you owe it to yourself to experience the format that started it all: a real, honest-to-goodness bluegrass festival like the one happening in our backyard next weekend.

DelVal is produced by The Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music. Tickets and more information available at delawarevalleybluegrass.org.

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.