Freshly plucked strings make up new bluegrass bands
Ryan Summerlin February 20, 2014
If you go ...
What: WinterWonderGrass Festival.
When: Friday through Sunday. Music starts at 3 p.m. each day.
Where: Nottingham Park, Avon.
Cost: $59 single-day general admission or $129 for a three-day pass, both of which include the daily Colorado craft beer tasting from 3 to 6 p.m. VIP passes are $299. One dollar from each ticket goes to a local non-profit of your choice.
More Info: Visit www.winterwondergrass.com.
Bluegrass music is as old as the hills, but some are still pretty green to it. Take for example Colin Huff of the band Gipsy Moon, who didn’t even so much as hold an upright bass until four years ago. After dropping out of college, Huff was living at home, not sure what his next move was, when his dad picked up a bass and said, “Here, play this.”
It’s an unremarkable moment until you find out that Huff’s dad is Vince Herman, guitar player for famed Colorado jam band Leftover Salmon. Leftover Salmon headline the WinterWonderGrass Festival tonight, while Gipsy Moon will play two sets that evening on one of the beer hall stages. Huff’s mother and Herman divorced when Colin was just a wee one, so he didn’t spend much time with his father until his 20s. Herman’s other son, Silas, grew up playing mandolin and is now also a member of Gipsy Moon. Unlike his brother, as a teenager Huff liked punk rock and had no interest in spending his life plucking strings like his old man.
“I remember (thinking), why would he have a band with a banjo in it?” Huff said. “You’re never going to go anywhere with that.”
Cut to now, when Gipsy Moon has not one but two people in the group who play banjo, giving their sound a traditional feel harkening back to bluegrass in its oldest form. The band, which also includes guitarist and vocalist Mackenzie Page, banjo player David Matters and cellist Andrew Conley, started serendipitously one night in Denver. Page had booked a gig for a band before she actually had one, asking friends she knew to join her on stage.
“I don’t think we practiced,” Huff said. “It was borne out of necessity, we sort of made it happen. At that gig, it seemed like we had a unique sound … It seemed like something worth pursuing.”
That was almost three years ago, and now the band has released a full length album, “Eventide,” produced by Dan Rodriguez, of Elephant Revival.
Fiddlin’ since infancy
Gipsy Moon is not the only band at WinterWonderGrass whose members grew up with bluegrass in their blood. Noah Jeffries and Dennis Ludiker, of MilkDrive, who perform on the main stage today, were both born with a fiddle in their right hand and a bow in their left. Ludiker comes from a long lineage of champion fiddle players, while Jeffries spent his childhood touring the country in his family’s bluegrass band. Jeffries and Ludiker met as youngsters on the fiddle competition circuit, which was much more cutthroat than your average spelling bee.
“It’s very competitive,” Jeffries said. “The fiddle community is very tight knit, everybody knows everybody’s business, kind of like a small town …They want to kill you in the fiddle contest but they’re your best friend afterwards. When I was a kid I was very serious about it. It was fun to win.”
When you come from a family of fiddlers, teenage rebellion comes in the form of joining the marching band, not playing heavy metal in the garage.
“I helped my school start a jazz band,” Jeffries said. “My dad is a true bluegrass fan, so when I started getting into jazz, that was like rock ‘n’ roll (to him), and that made me like it even more.”
Pickin’ up tips from the pros
You’ll hear influences of jazz in MilkDrive’s music, which combines their expert picking with a sound that’s surprisingly smooth.
Jeffries doesn’t see MilkDrive as a traditional bluegrass band, but he has noticed a resurgence of the genre with young musicians, especially in Austin, Texas, where the band calls home.
“There were a lot of acoustic music bands, and they kind of all moved away,” Jeffries said. “But in the last few years it’s started to come back. There’s (many) bands doing the bluegrass thing but trying to add their own newness to it. There’s even a band here that’s barely graduated high school, and they’re doing very traditional bluegrass.”
Huff agrees that bluegrass is growing and he thinks it’s partially because mainstream folk bands like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers have sparked people to seek out more acoustic music. For both Huff and Jeffries, it’s the incredible picking and playing from the pros that push them to be better.
“With bluegrass, there’s so much talent that goes into that,” Huff said. “It just feels so good to hear someone play an instrument that well and that fast.”
For Leftover Salmon fans who followed the band back when Huff was in diapers, it can seem surreal that he and Silas are performing at the same festival as their father. It’s perhaps more surreal to Huff himself.
“Growing up I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” Huff said. “But I knew what I didn’t want to do, which were the two things my parents did: a musician and a pilot.”
Huff’s not planning on pursing a pilot’s license anytime soon, but he’s now happy with Gipsy Moon and his career as a traveling musician. This is one upright bass player who’s proof that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Or, in bluegrass speak, the strings don’t fall far from the fingerboard.
Dead Winter Carpenters — 3:15 to 4:20 p.m.
MilkDrive — 4:45 to 6 p.m.
Greensky Bluegrass — 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Leftover Salmon — 8:30 to 10 p.m.
Old Town Pickers — 4:20 to 4:45 p.m. and 6 to 6:30 p.m.
Dead Winter Carpenters — 8 to 8:30 p.m.
Pickin’ Perch Stage:
Brew talk with Breckenridge Brewery and Vince Herman, of Leftover Salmon — 4:20 to 4:45 p.m.
Gipsy Moon — 6 to 6:30 p.m. and 8 to 8:30 p.m.
Scott Law and Tyler Grant — 3 to 4:15 p.m.
Whitewater Ramble — 4:45 to 6 p.m.
Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers — 6:30 to 7:45 p.m.
Greensky Bluegrass with Sam Bush — 8:15 to 10 p.m.
MilkDrive — 4:15 to 4:45 p.m. and 6 to 6:30 p.m.
WonderGrass Special — 7:45 to 8:15 p.m.
Pickin’ Perch Stage:
Brew talk with Kevin Selvy, of Crazy Mountain Brewery — 4:15 to 4:45 p.m.
Scott Law and Tyler Grant — 6 to 6:30 p.m.
Tyler Grant and Scott Law — 8 to 8:15 p.m.
Fruition — 2:55 to 3:55 p.m.
Head For The Hills — 4:10 to 5:10 p.m.
Elephant Revival — 5:40 to 7 p.m.
The Infamous Stringdusters — 7:30 to 9 p.m.
Brewer talk with Oskar Blues and Andy Hall, of the Infamous Stringdusters — 3:55 to 4:10 p.m.
Fruition — 5:10 to 5:40 p.m. and 7 to 7:30 p.m.
Pickin’ Perch Stage:
WonderGrass House Band — 3:55 to 4:10 p.m.; 5:10 to 5:40 p.m.; and 7 to 7:30 p.m.