Saturday, June 19th, 2021
The Lone Bellow
Opener: Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno
“I want it to bring comfort,” The Lone Bellow guitarist Brian Elmquist says. “But it’s not all hard conversations. There’s a lot of light and some dancing that needs to happen.” Brian is reflecting on Half Moon Light, the band’s highly anticipated new album.
Half Moon Light is an artistic triumph worked toward for years, earned not by individual posturing, but by collective determination and natural growth. With earthy three-part harmonies and songwriting as provocative as it is honest, the trio made up of Brian, lead vocalist Zach Williams, and multi-instrumentalist Kanene Donehey Pipkin creates sparks that make a stranger’s life matter or bring our sense of childlike wonder roaring back. On Half Moon Light, The Lone Bellow mix light and dark to muster a complex ode to memory, a call for hope, and an exercise in empathy. Anchored in the acoustic storytelling that first so endeared the band to fans and critics, Half Moon Light also takes more chances, experimenting with textures and instrumental fillips to create a full-bodied music experience. The result is The Lone Bellow’s most sophisticated work to date.
“We try to invite as many people into the process to see what we can make together,” Brian says. “I like that spirit and that freedom. Then, the songs speak for themselves.”
Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno
Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno’s self-titled record is old-soul roots music to its core. Though both just out of college, the duo’s musical talents extend far beyond their years. Produced by GRAMMY-winning Cajun roots heavyweight Joel Savoy at his Louisiana studio, Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno (released March 12, 2021 on Free Dirt Records) is not some soulless collection of songs imitating previous masters of American music. Rather, the pair has responded to one of the darkest eras in American history with an album of stunning breadth and originality.
With mass protests, fires raging near their current home in the Pacific Northwest, and no prospect of touring anytime soon, it’s an aptly biting, bittersweet group of songs for an uncertain time. Yet, Leva and Calcagno balance this with a sense of optimism—a notion that at our most vulnerable we might emerge better humans because of it all, perhaps beginning with our own intimate relationships. The eleven tracks elegantly reprise the deep threads of old-time and classic country present throughout Leva’s debut album—she did grow up in rural Appalachia outside Lexington, Virginia, the daughter of celebrated old-time musicians, after all. However, the pair fluidly meld this traditional backbone with fresh iconic melodies, expanded production, and the tightly wound vocal harmonies of indie folk. It’s an artistic statement made from this moment but built to last.
Friday, July 2nd, 2021
Since forming nearly 50 years ago, The Seldom Scene has brought both freewheeling joy and immaculate musicianship to their inventive take on bluegrass, offering up spirited interpretations of songs from limitless genres. On their new album Changes, the band sharpens their focus to a highly specific body of work: songs first recorded in the 1960s and very early ’70s, rooted in the archetypal storytelling of classic singer-songwriters. And in taking on the music of iconic artists like Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt, The Seldom Scene perform a sort of subtle magic: transforming the most stripped-bare songs into harmony-rich and elaborately arranged compositions, while wholly sustaining the charmed simplicity of each piece.
Lifted from a soul-stirring version of Phil Ochs’s most celebrated love song, the title to Changes also reflects a major shift for the band: following the 2016 retirement of banjo player Ben Eldridge, it’s the first Seldom Scene album that doesn’t feature a founding member. “I suppose it’s a gutsy move to keep this going without a single original member left,” Connell admits. “But we’ve all been doing this for a quarter-century now, so if anybody can carry that mantle, it’s us.”
On Changes, The Seldom Scene more than proves itself up to task, gracing every song with breathtaking instrumental interplay and heavenly three-part harmonies. Co-produced by the band and Rounder Records co-founder Ken Irwin, the album also spotlights The Seldom Scene’s sheer ingenuity as song arrangers, with even the most starkly composed tracks taking on wondrously intricate textures and tones.
Saturday, July 17th, 2021
Darrell Scott's Electrifying Trio
Multi-Instrumentalist and Singer-Songwriter Darrell Scott mines and cultivates the everyday moment, taking the rote, menial, mundane, and allowing it to be surreal, ever poignant, and candidly honest, lilting, blooming, and resonating. The words he fosters allow us to make sense of the world, what is at stake here, and our place in it. And ultimately, Darrell knows the sole truth of life is that love is all that matters, that we don’t always get it right, but that’s the instinctive and requisite circuitous allure of things, why we forever chase it, and why it is held sacred.
Darrell Scott comes from a musical family with a father who had him smitten with guitars by the age of 4, alongside a brother who played Jerry Reed style as well. From there, things only ramped up with literature and poetry endeavors while a student at Tufts University, along with playing his way through life. This would never change.
After recently touring with Robert Plant and the Zac Brown Band (2 years with each), and producing albums for Malcolm Holcomb and Guy Clark and being named “songwriter of the year” for both ASCAP and NSAI, these days ﬁnd him roaming his Tennessee wilderness acreage hiking along the small river, creating delicious meals with food raised on his property and playing music. He often leads songwriting workshops to help people tell their own truths with their stories, and is as busy as always writing, producing, performing, and just plain fully immersing himself in life.
Sunday, August 8th, 2021
Watkins Family Hour
Opener: Jesse Harper
Returning to the studio as Watkins Family Hour, Sean and Sara Watkins consider brother sister a duo-centric record – yet one that feels bigger than just two people. With Sean primarily on guitar and Sara on fiddle, and with both of them sharing vocals, the siblings enlisted producer Mike Viola (Jenny Lewis, Mandy Moore, J.S. Ondara) and mixer-engineer Clay Blair to harness the energy and honesty of their live sound.
“From the beginning, our goal was to work on these songs to be as strong as they could be, just the two of us,” Sara explains. “And with a few exceptions on the record, that’s really how things were. It was a tight little group of us, working dense days where we could squeeze them in.”
Sean (who is four years older than Sara) adds, “Because of the limited amount of time we had collectively to spend in the studio, there was a general sense of urgency, which I think the three of us (Sara, Mike and I) kinda strive for on these days. We didn’t have that much time and that made it fun and exciting. It was just us, in one room, facing each other with some really great mics, often playing and singing at the same time, trying to capture what Sara and I do in a real way.”
For the first time, the Los Angeles-based siblings carved out time to write with each other, often during the naptime of Sara’s toddler. They took early versions of the new songs to Viola, who instinctively rearranged some of the song structures in an effort to draw attention to interesting lyrics or surprising arrangements.
Jesse Harper is founding member and lead singer of acoustic supergroups Old School Freight Train and Love Canon. He has played thousands of concerts in both North America and Europe and performed with many of his musical heroes including David Grisman, Madeleine Peyroux, kd lang, Jason Mraz, Josh Ritter, Ricky Skaggs and many others.
Jesse is currently recording the follow up to his debut album: JH and His Best Intentions. Drawing from early Jazz, Classical and Folk music. This second work will feature Jesse’s songwriting and collaborations with all of the geniuses he is lucky enough to be friends with.
Friday, August 13th, 2021
Steep Canyon Rangers
Steep Canyon Rangers are Asheville, North Carolina’s GRAMMY winners, perennial Billboard chart-toppers, and frequent collaborators of the renowned banjoist (and occasional comedian) Steve Martin. Today, the band has shared the results of what is perhaps their most singular musical partnership to date – teaming with Philadelphia soul legends Boyz II Men and their hometown Asheville Symphony to completely overhaul the Rangers’ original “Be Still Moses,” which was first recorded on their 2007 breakout album Lovin’ Pretty Women.
The premiere coincides with the announcement that Steep Canyon Rangers have re-signed with Yep Roc Records. “It feels like coming home,” says Sharp of the partnership. “The Yep Roc family was among the first to welcome Steep Canyon Rangers when we were just pups. As we’ve grown, so have they. We’re incredibly excited for the future and all the music it holds.”
Steep Canyon Rangers released their North Carolina Songbook album on Record Store Day, 11/29/19. This is a recording of their live performance of all North Carolina Songwriters performed earlier this year at Merlefest.
The Rangers are made up of Woody Platt on guitar and vocals, Graham Sharp on banjo and vocals, Mike Guggino on mandolin/mandola and vocals, Nicky Sanders on fiddle and vocals, Mike Ashworth on drums and vocals, and Barrett Smith on bass and vocals.
Friday, August 27th, 2021
Town Mountain and Sierra Ferrell
Raw, soulful, and with plenty of swagger, Town Mountain has earned raves for their hard-driving sound, their in-house songwriting and the honky-tonk edge that permeates their exhilarating live performances, whether in a packed club or at a sold-out festival. The hearty base of Town Mountain's music is the first and second generation of bluegrass spiced with country, old school rock ‘n’ roll, and boogie-woogie.
Town Mountain's latest album New Freedom Blues (October 2018) is their second consecutive album to debut in the top 10 on the Billboard Bluegrass Chart, and receive multiple worthy mentions by Rolling Stone, No Depression, and more. Full of new material and featuring several guest artists including Tyler Childers and Miles Miller (Sturgill Simpson, drummer), they prove they have staying power by regularly cranking out authentic hit albums. The impression the band has made on fans is clear through their engagement, top tier festival appearances, and those sweet, sweet Spotify streams (6+ million). And if you still can’t get enough of this hard working group, you can look forward to new music in 2020.
With her spellbinding voice and time-bending sound, Sierra Ferrell makes music that's as fantastically vagabond as the artist herself. Growing up in West Virginia, the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist got her start belting out Shania Twain songs in a local bar at the age of seven, and left home in her early 20s to journey across the country with a troupe of wandering musicians. "I met all these homeless kids who were traveling all over the place and playing amazing old songs, and I wanted to be a part of that," says Ferrell, who played everywhere from truck stops to alleyways to freight-train boxcars speeding down the railroad tracks. "The music they were making was so honest, so pure. It seemed important to bring that kind of music back, and it's been with me ever since."
After years of living in her van and busking on the streets of New Orleans and Seattle, Ferrell moved to Nashville and started landing gigs around town. Soon enough, her magnetic live show drew the attention of Rounder Records, who signed Ferrell in 2019. To date, she's enchanted audiences at major festivals like The Avett Brothers at the Beach, AmericanaFest, and Out on The Weekend, and also shared the stage with the likes of Trampled by Turtles, Parker Millsap, Charley Crockett, and The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band.
Thursday, September 9th, 2021
Madison Cunningham and Hawktail
With its sharp storytelling and bursts of electric guitar, Who Are You Now is Madison Cunningham's coming-of-age record — a diverse album that's modern, melodic, and rooted in the 21 year-old's observations of her own fast-changing world.
"The past year was a largely transitional one for me. It felt like all at once I was living in a new city and anew era of my life, trying to find where I fit, what I believed, and who my people were. It doesn't matter how many great examples you have to look up to, when it’s your turn to face adulthood,you feel like you’re scrambling for the right tools.Writing this record really forced me to take an honest look at where I came from, what my dreams and fears were, and who I was becoming as a result.”
Cunningham began searching for answers during her childhood in Orange County, California. A guitarist since the age of 7, she began performing alongside her father—a worship pastor and lifelong musician—at a local church. By 15 years old, she was writing her own songs and exploring her own voice as a musician. Playing an integral role in that process was Tyler Chester, a multi-instrumentalist and studio guru who'd worked with artists like Jackson Browne, Blake Mills, and Andrew Bird. Later, after leaving home and moving to Los Angeles, Cunningham's list of champions grew to encompass the likes of Sara Watkins, Chris Thile, and the Milk Carton Kids' Joey Ryan.
"When I met 15-year-old Madi and she played one of her early songs for me, it struck me within the first 15 seconds that I was witnessing one of the most purely musical human beings I would ever meet,"says Chester. "She was young and her skillset unrefined, but already at her core was that same unteachable magic that you hear amplified in her today."
Hawktail is the instrumental acoustic quartet of fiddler Brittany Haas, bassist Paul Kowert, guitarist Jordan Tice, and mandolinist Dominick Leslie. Though at first glance it looks like an acoustic superpicker side-project, their all-original music is cohesive and unique, distinguishing them as an ensemble with a sound built from the ground up. Flush with orchestral sweeps and sparse vigils, with strains of the American South and the North Atlantic, this cosmopolitan sound is not what you’d expect from a string band.
Each member of Hawktail brings a strong individuality to the project. Haas, whose 2004 self-titled release instantly became the touchstone for a generation of old-time fiddlers, has since lent her sound to Crooked Still, Live From Here, Steve Martin, and David Rawlings, where she played alongside Kowert, well known as the Grammy-winning Punch Brothers’ virtuosic bass player. Tice is a rare guitar player whose music showcases his unique identity and a particular knack for song and tune-writing, and Leslie is a versatile mandolinist whose rhythmic sensibility has made him ubiquitous on the acoustic music scene for over a decade. However, despite each of their ability to contribute to many musical situations, something special happens when they unite as Hawktail. Together, they have fostered a reputation as a rare ensemble of composers and instrumentalists able to take the listener on a journey, without the use of words.
Saturday, September 25th, 2021
Sam Bush Band
Opener: Will Lee and Danny Knicely
There was only one prize-winning teenager carrying stones big enough to say thanks, but no thanks to Roy Acuff. Only one son of Kentucky finding a light of inspiration from Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys and catching a fire from Bob Marley and The Wailers. Only one progressive hippie allying with like-minded conspirators, rolling out the New Grass revolution, and then leaving the genre's torch-bearing band behind as it reached its commercial peak. There is only one consensus pick of peers and predecessors, of the traditionalists, the rebels, and the next gen devotees. Music's ultimate inside outsider. Or is it outside insider? There is only one Sam Bush.
On a Bowling Green, Kentucky cattle farm in the post-war 1950s, Bush grew up an only son, and with four sisters. His love of music came immediately, encouraged by his parents' record collection and, particularly, by his father Charlie, a fiddler, who organized local jams. Charlie envisioned his son someday a staff fiddler at the Grand Ole Opry, but a clear day's signal from Nashville brought to Bush's television screen a tow-headed boy named Ricky Skaggs playing mandolin with Flatt and Scruggs, and an epiphany for Bush. At 11, he purchased his first mandolin.
As a teen fiddler Bush was a three-time national champion in the junior division of the National Oldtime Fiddler's Contest. He recorded an instrumental album, Poor Richard's Almanac as a high school senior and in the spring of 1970 attended the Fiddlers Convention in Union Grove, NC. There he heard the New Deal String Band, taking notice of their rock-inspired brand of progressive bluegrass.
Will Lee and Danny Knicely
“Two voices and two pairs of hands can produce some mighty fine music...their complementary harmony vocals and their driving and mutually supportive instrumental work on mandolin, banjo, and guitar...will rekindle your appreciation of the “small band” sound in bluegrass,” says Bluegrass Unlimited. Both Will Lee and Danny Knicely are fourth-generation Appalachian master musicians who grew up together, living and breathing the tradition. The amazing live excitement of this old-time singin’ and pickin’ just gets lost on typical CDs. That’s why Mapleshade is so proud that their two-mike purism really captured the sweet tremolo of the mandolin, the contrasting resonances of their vintage guitars, the twangy punch of Will’s banjo and his irresistible, honey-smooth baritone voice.
Saturday, October 2nd, 2021
The Milk Carton Kids
Listening to The Milk Carton Kids -- Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale -- talk about their creative process, it’s easy to imagine them running in opposite directions even while yoked together. “Joey and I famously have an adversarial relationship,” Pattengale says. They dig at each other in interviews and on stage, where Ryan plays his own straight man, while Pattengale tunes his guitar. The songs emerge somewhere in the silences and the struggle between their sensibilities. They have been known to argue over song choices. They have been known to argue about everything from wardrobe to geography to grammar. But their singing is the place where they make room for each other and the shared identity that rises out of their combined voices. Defying the conventions of melody and harmony is a strategy The Milk Carton Kids have consciously embraced. “Sometimes we’ll switch parts for a beat or a bar or a note,” Ryan says. “And that starts to obfuscate what is the melody and what is the supporting part because we think of both of them being strong enough to stand alone.”
“There are only so many things you can do alone in life that allow you to transcend your sense of self for even a short period,” Pattengale continues. “I’m the lucky recipient of a life in which for hundreds of times, day after day, I get to spend an hour that is like speaking a language only two people know and doing it in a space with others who want to hear it.
The Only Ones, the group’s new record (out now on the band’s own Milk Carton Records imprint in partnership with Thirty Tigers), finds Ryan and Pattengale performing a stripped-down acoustic set without a backing band. On The Only Ones, the pair returns to the core of what they are about musically: the duo.