10 Must-See Shows for Fall 2018

Autumn officially began in the Northern Hemisphere two weeks ago, so there’s no time for an extended introduction to this season’s 10 Must-See Shows. Suffice it to say that our bluegrass cornocopia overfloweth this season, and there are many more excellent touring acts deserving of your entertainment dollars than can fit on this list. You’ll want to visit the full Philly Bluegrass Calendar to stay on top of it all, including performances by local and regional bands. And it’s easier than ever to keep track: now you can add the Philly Bluegrass Calendar to your iPhone or Android device so you’ll never again miss a must-see show.

October 7: The Lonely Heartstring Band at Kimberton Park Amphitheater

The Kimberton Arts Alliance presents The Lonely Heartstring Band for the first show in the Alliance’s new American Roots series. Born out of the Berklee College of Music as a Beatles cover band, The Lonely Heartstring Band has matured into a highly-decorated band (including an IBMA Band Momentum trophy), and are preparing to release their second album of original music (Smoke and Ashes) on Rounder Records in February. Tickets: $20.

October 10: Fruition, The Lil Smokies at Boot & Saddle

Road warriors The Lil Smokies have been busy since last performing at Boot & Saddle in February. They’ve played festivals all over the dang place this summer (Telluride, FloydFest, String Summit, to name a few) and also hit the road with Greensky Bluegrass this fall. It’s a double bill on October 10 with Fruition, hot off the release of their fifth studio album, which Relix called an “experiment in catharsis.” Sounds good right about now. Advance tickets: $20.

October 28: Della Mae at Boot & Saddle

Formed in Boston in 2009 and now based in Nashville, Della Mae will tour in fall 2018 through their old stomping ground of the Northeast. The band is said to be writing material for a new album, perhaps drawing inspiration from the special guests joining them on this tour, including Alison Brown and Bonnie Paine (Elephant Revival). Their Philly show will feature former Della Mae guitarist Avril Smith. The Lehigh Valley’s Serene Green opens. Tickets $17.

November 2: Front Country at the Philadelphia Folksong Society

The Philadelphia Folksong Society opened its new venue on Ridge Ave. earlier this year, adding a much-needed listening room to the Philadelphia music scene. Those lucky enough to catch Front Country at the Osage Ave. House Concert Series way back in September 2014—before the band was touring internationally and performing at major festivals—know that this band thrives in an intimate setting. You’ll get another chance on November 2. Black Horse Motel opens. Advance tickets are $12 for members and $15 for non-members.

November 3: Jim Lauderdale at The Locks at Sona

Speaking of listening rooms, The Locks at Sona is the official successor to the famed Tin Angel, with the same folks behind the Tin Angel joining forces to open The Locks this fall. Jim Lauderdale has a great new record out (when doesn’t he?!) and should make a perfect headliner for the new space. Special guest Zephaniah OHora means this will be a seriously good night of music in Manayunk. Advance tickets $22-30.

November 10: Yonder Mountain String Band at Ardmore Music Hall

What more can be said about Yonder Mountain String Band that hasn’t been said already? They’ve been at it since 1998 and will still melt your face off with some of the best jamgrass this side of Nederland, Colorado. With special guests Brad Parsons & Starbird. Tickets are $27.50 (advance), $30 (door), or $45 (seated).

November 11: Béla Fleck, Zakir Hussain & Edgar Meyer at Annenberg Center Live

Is it bluegrass? Almost certainly not. But who cares? Béla Fleck, Zakir Hussain, and Edgar Meyer, the masters of the banjo, tabla, and double bass unite at Annenberg Center Live and you won’t want to miss it. Tickets $29-$78.

November 14: The Travelin’ McCourys at Ardmore Music Hall

This spring, the Travelin’ McCourys dropped a brand new album that is technically their full-length debut, despite the band’s eight-year tenure. One of the standout tracks is a cover of the 2012 Passenger pop mega-hit “Let Her Go,” a reminder that the McCourys aren’t afraid to push boundaries and cross genres. That’s sure to be the case when they visit Ardmore Music Hall on November 14. Tickets are $18 (advance), $22 (door), or $30 (seated).

November 17: I’m With Her at Union Transfer

I’m With Her was never meant to be a band. It started as an impromptu 2014 collaboration in Telluride between Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan, and Sara Watkins. (Yes, their name predates the well-known 2016 political slogan.) Now a bona fide super-group, I’m With Her released their first full-length album (“See You Around”) on Rounder Records in February, and will have plenty of original material to perform at Union Transfer on November 17. The silky-smooth brother harmonies of The Brother Brothers make for a perfect union on Spring Garden Street. Tickets $35.

November 21: The Dead South at The Trocadero Theatre

So many questions about this band. If they’re from Canada, why aren’t they called “The Dead North”? What caused the music video for their song “In Hell I’ll Be In Good Company” to go viral (75 million streams and counting)? What is their live show like? There’s only one way to find out. Tickets are general admission and $20.


The Infamous Stringdusters, Del & Dawg, and More Take Downtown Philly

September 30, 2018 may go down in history as the largest-ever gathering of big-time bluegrass and jam bands in downtown Philadelphia. Originally scheduled to be held at the Mann Center’s outdoor Skyline Stage, the one-day festival was moved by the organizers to downtown club “North Seventh” (f.k.a. The Electric Factory) a little more than a week before showtime. While most would have preferred to be outside (the weather was perfect) the bands and fans made the best of the situation and played and danced away the day and night.

Philly’s own Midnight Flyer kicked off the day with a tight set of acoustic bluegrass music played through microphones—something of a rarity for the day. David Grisman would land a good joke later in the day on that topic. A lot of younger people who play bluegrass “use those amps and foot pedals,” Grisman said. “We’re just too cheap to buy that stuff,” he went on, speaking of his one-mic set with Del McCoury.

Cris Jacobs, Larry Keel and Natural Bridge, and Jeff Austin played sets through the late September afternoon, and Leftover Salmon took the stage as the last of the daylight peeked through the venue’s window coverings. “It’s like being outside,” said Leftover’s Vince Herman. “With the lights and stuff, just pretend that we’re outside and it’s night!” In festival style, Jeff Austin joined Leftover for a spacey vocal improv, and the crowd danced and sang to an extended jam on Leftover’s cover of George Michael’s 1990 hit “Freedom 90.”


For the fans of traditional bluegrass in attendance, Del & Dawg (Del McCoury and David Grisman) might have been the highlight of the festival. North Seventh, known primarily as a cavernous rock club, transformed into a quiet listening room, with 500+ people listening with rapt attention, only interrupting the giants of bluegrass that stood on stage to holler after a great Dawg solo and to sing along raucously to “Dark Hollow.”

The Infamous Stringdusters closed out the night with their unique breed of tightly-choreographed jamgrass. The Dusters’ set felt perhaps the best suited of the entire day to the venue—complete with light show and smoke machines—and got nearly the entire crowd moving.


While the festival’s move from the Mann Center certainly alienated some fans—particularly (and understandably) those with young children—the event went off smoothly, thanks in no small part to the excellent job by the sound crew at North Seventh. At the end of the day, the fans came, the bands played, and Philly’s bluegrass community gathered together for the love of the music.

Ed. note: despite the similar name, this event was not produced by Philly Bluegrass.