10 Must-See Shows for Spring 2018

The changing of the seasons means that once again it’s time to survey the touring bluegrass and roots music acts coming through town over the next few months. As usual, there are more than just 10, so make sure to check out the Philly Bluegrass calendar for a comprehensive and often-updated list of bluegrass/roots music shows and jams this season, including shows by the area’s best local performers. Send any omissions to notes@phillybluegrass.com.

March 21 26*: Hoot & Holler at West Philly House Concert

Guitarist Mark Kilianski and fiddler Amy Alvey, usually a duo, team up with clawhammer banjoist Brad Kolodner (Charm City Junction) and Alex Laquement (Charm City Junction, The Bumper Jacksons) on bass for a full band tour that kicks off in West Philly on March 21 26. It’s a house concert, so all we can tell you is that it takes place somewhere in West Philly. You’ll have to RSVP to find out where.

* Show postponed due to Winter Storm Toby.

March 23: The Seldom Scene at the Grand Opera House (Wilmington)

The Seldom Scene keeps going strong through the passing years and changing lineups. In 2017, Ron Stewart joined the band, replacing Rickie Simpkins. The band currently consists of Dudley Connell (guitar/lead vocals), Ron Stewart (banjo/fiddle/guitar), Lou Reid (mandolin/tenor vocals), Fred Travers (dobro/lead vocals), and Ronnie Simpkins (bass/baritone vocals). While none of the original members remain in the group, you can count on hearing much of the band’s classic repertoire. As of this writing, limited tickets are available.

March 27: Sam Amidon at Bourbon & Branch

Sam Amidon has been a somewhat frequent visitor to Philadelphia in recent years, last visiting in October 2017 for a show at World Cafe Live. He’s been touring behind a new record, released in May 2017. Pitchfork called it his most “jazz-forward,” so you can likely expect a bit of a departure from American trad or Irish fiddle tunes at Bourbon & Branch on March 27.

April 19: Driftwood and The Last Revel at MilkBoy

Binghamton, New York’s Driftwood crosses paths with Minneapolis’ The Last Revel in Philadelphia; specifically, at MilkBoy’s Center City venue on Chestnut Street. The two bands aren’t actually on tour with each other, so this will be a good chance to catch this one-time pairing.

April 19-20: The Cactus Blossoms at Johnny Brenda’s

Strictly speaking, the Cactus Blossoms might not be a bluegrass band. But if you love the great brother harmony duos in the grand tradition of Jim & Jesse and many others, you won’t want to miss hearing these brothers from Minnesota and their modern take on the genre during their two-night stand at Johnny Brenda’s in Fishtown, presented by WXPN. With A.M. Mills.

April 20: Mipso at Boot & Saddle

Mipso will visit Philly’s Boot & Saddle on April 20, just two weeks after dropping their latest album, Edges Run, on Robust Records. But you don’t need to wait until April 20 to hear the first single from the album, “People Change,” which is out now. Tom Brosseau opens.

April 23: Hawktail at Johnny Brenda’s

Last fall, the super group formerly known as Haas Kowert Tice added Dominick Leslie (mandolin) to their already-stacked lineup. This of course necessitated a name change. The acronym formed by their initials (H.K.T.L.) gave rise to the band’s new name, Hawktail. The band is tracking a new album (their first), so they should have plenty of new material when they visit Johnny Brenda’s on April 23. Man About a Horse opens.

May 2: Billy Strings at Boot & Saddle

Billy Strings (née William Apostol) is back in Philly after opening for Greensky Bluegrass in February at the Fillmore, where he demonstrated his chops in Greensky-style extended jams. You’ll have to attend the show at Boot & Saddle yourself to see what kind of vibe the young guitar slinger brings to Philly this time.

May 9: Trampled by Turtles at Union Transfer

Trampled by Turtles will be just days past the release of their latest studio effort, “Life is Good on the Open Road” (BanjoDad Records), when they play Union Transfer in May. The band’s last release in 2014 hit #1 on the US Folk charts and #29 overall, making them perhaps the most commercially successful of all acts that could be described as bluegrass. In other words, buy your tickets soon if you want to go to this one. Hiss Golden Messenger opens and comes off a year of critical acclaim in 2017.

May 24-27: Wind Gap Bluegrass Festival

While not technically in Philly, Wind Gap Bluegrass Festival gets honorable mention on this spring’s list because, after three Nor’easters in 10 days, we’re all ready to get outside and do some camping. Wind Gap is a beautiful, wooded (bug spray, people!), dog-friendly festival with easy camping and lots of jamming. Not to mention affordable, at $75 for a full-weekend pass. Danny Paisley, Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike, Country Current, and (many) more perform. Pickers, get your calluses in shape!

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EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Larry Keel

On Sunday, January 14, the Ardmore Music Hall will host legendary guitar slinger Larry Keel and his Experience band. Matt Thomas caught up with Mr. Keel via email and learned—among other things—what’s been on the radio in the Experience tour van and what Philly bluegrass fans should expect when the Larry Keel Experience hits town. Tickets for the show are on sale now at ardmoremusic.com, and you can enter to win a pair of tickets on our Facebook page.

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MT: What does “bluegrass music” mean to you?

LK: When I think of bluegrass, I think of the music of the people who settled the Appalachian Mountains. Through music, they told the stories of their way of life, their good times, their humor, their hardships and sorrows. Bluegrass players have also tended to be dedicated to mastering their instrument. So the level of musicianship in that genre has a really high standard, among true bluegrass appreciators.

MT: What do you look forward to the most when you come through Philly as a touring musician?

LK: The City of Brotherly Love! It’s old and classic, but hip and edgy too. I look forward to all the love and energy that Philly people bring to the shows. And I never miss having a cheese steak, of course.

MT: Your last album featured a lot of great guests. Is there anyone out there you want to collaborate with, but haven’t had the chance yet?

LK: There are too many to name! Billy Joel? Gordan Lightfoot? Tommy Emmanuel? Mark Knopfler? And many others who have passed on that I would loved to have had a chance to play music with. But I’m lucky that I am constantly meeting new, amazing players and there are so many I already know and play with but haven’t recorded with yet. The best part about it is I never know what’s gonna happen next.

MT: What album or albums are getting the most play in the tour van?

LK: New Grass Revival. Wood Brothers. Steep Canyon Rangers. And I love the late-night-drive DJ session, where I stream song after song while we ride. I mix pretty much every genre imaginable.

MT: Tell us about the band. What should fans expect from the iteration of the Experience that you are bringing to Ardmore Music Hall this month?

LK: Power trio along the lines of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, but with guitar, mandolin, and upright bass. Expect a high energy, very authentic sonic art experience. Our show covers the full spectrum of emotions, from the soothing and heart-warming to the raw, gritty and startling; old mountain sounds and fresh, innovative ideas, all of which will transport everyone into the magic of the music. Not to mention one helluva good time.