Thursday, March 8, 2012


Bluegrass music may have gotten its start in a different range of mountains a bit east of here, but for fans of banjo picking and fiddle playing there may not be a better place to be than right here in the Rockies.
Nationally touring Yonder Mountain String Band nearly sold out a five-night run in their birthplace at the Boulder Theater over the New Years weekend. Additionally, Bluegrass festivals Telluride (June 21-24) and RockyGrass (July 27-29) in Lyons draw national audiences and help grow the state's solid base of fans ready to go see live music when anyone with a banjo or a fiddle shows up.
Denver recently hosted multiple nights of Railroad Earth playing to packed houses.  The band offered nothing short of two perfect sets the night I caught them including a memorable rendition of “Goat” and a worthwhile “Cuckoo Medley.”  Bluegrass virtuoso David Grisman also brought his band of incredibly talented musicians to the Ogden for a night of “Dawg Music.” Grisman's son played the bass in the band alongside many talented players. Grisman was talkative through the night giving listeners a lesson in bluegrass history and shared several Bill Monroe standards. He invited Nick Forster of eTown fame to join him on stage and the unique arrangement of musicians around limited microphones offered a chance for everyone to step to the front and show off a little.
Mudstomp Records band Whistle Pigs stopped at Sancho's Broken Arrow for a show and played some of the best bluegrass this side of the Ozarks.  The Illinois natives worked through a hilarious mix of tales that could draw on characters from Trailer Park Boys and Petticoat Junction. They did a fun version of “All the Marijuana” that I've seen their label mates Mountain Sprout play a number of times and by the end of the night they had a reluctant crowd moving around the tiny dance floor. Worth a watch if they swing through again.
More recently the Bluebird played host to the Hackensaw Boys who played energetic and innovative ‘grass all night. Every member of this large group had superior talent individually and together they raged for almost two hours. I loved the fellow with the percussion space rocket strapped to his chest. It looked like a hubcap with several sizes of metal can attached and he played that thing like the devil.
Finally, Cornmeal and Hot Buttered Rum started a three-week west coast tour at an Ogden packed with happy fans. Both bands were full of fire and energy from start to finish. Perhaps bluegrass lends itself to exploratory noodling and stage antics but these gentlemen looked to be having quite the time and the show didn't drag once. They also incorporated the jam band set into the fold by offering the occasional Dead cover and wandering ever so slightly out there before coming back to grass.  Dreads were bouncing and boots were tapping side by side. At the end of the evening members of both bands shared the stage for several numbers together as “Hot Buttered Corn.” And it sounded just like summer in the south.
- John Binyon

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