Keystone’s Winter Bluegrass Weekend is Jan. 20-21 at Warren Station | VailDaily.com

Keystone’s Winter Bluegrass Weekend is Jan. 20-21 at Warren Station

Caroline Lewis
clweis@summitdaily.com

KEYSTONE — Old time music is in its adolescent stage.

Bluegrass is evolving rapidly before our eyes. The instruments are largely the same (banjo, mandolin, bass, guitar and fiddle), but the directions modern string bands are taking the music are anything but old fashioned.

"It's an interesting time for this genre, specifically in Colorado with the progressive bluegrass movement," said Adam Greuel, the guitarist and vocalist for Horseshoes and Hand Grenades. "It's not the type of music created by Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys. It's kept the namesake of the genre, the particular beat and instrumentation, but it's not that particular thing."

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades was one of the headlining bands on Friday for Keystone's sixth annual Winter Bluegrass Weekend, which continues tonight at Warren Station.

The lineup

Of the bands in attendance, four are Colorado-based bands.

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Friday night's performances included Thunder and Rain from Golden, Breckenridge's The Pine Beetles and Horseshoes and Hand Grenades from Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Tonight's performance includes Meadow Mountain Bluegrass from Vail, Caribou Mountain Collective from Nederland and The Lil' Smokies from Missoula, Montana.

The acts in attendance at the event are exemplary of the ever-changing bluegrass scene.

"It's a conundrum, for sure. We have all the classical bluegrass instruments. We aren't exactly categorized as bluegrass. I think of it more as new grass or progressive acoustic. It's almost a bit of pop," said Andy Dunnigan, dobro player and vocalist for The Lil' Smokies.

The Lil' Smokies, like many of the string bands performing this weekend, don't self-describe as "bluegrass." Well, not exactly.

"Our sound has some country and folk influence. It's not exactly bluegrass or folk or country. It's really a blend of those things," said Miles Perry, guitarist for Caribou Mountain Collective.

More than meets the eye

Many of the bands attending Keystone's Bluegrass Weekend actively push the boundaries of how bluegrass was originally interpreted.

"You think of bluegrass as people in overalls with grass in their mouths. That is completely stereotypical. Bluegrass has started to change and expand a lot. Bands are making it something of their own," Dunnigan said.

Bluegrass is a reflection of the synthesis of genres over times. It's essentially traditional music being passed down, becoming increasingly loose in its interpretation.

"Bluegrass erupted from a blend of cultures by people from all over the world. … Bluegrass is a common thread that people can relate to, no matter where they are from," said Maja Russer, director of events and marketing for the Keystone Neighbourhood Co.

America itself is a conglomeration of various cultures and identities, much like the genre of bluegrass. There is a reason bluegrass is often referred to as Americana.

"Bluegrass is a uniquely American tradition," said Karina Wetherbee, general manager for The Dercum Center and one of its founders. "The bluegrass tradition is a rich one in Colorado."

Of the many bluegrass hubs popping up all over the country, the Colorado progressive bluegrass scene is at the epicenter.

"Bluegrass is changing every day in Colorado," said Summers Baker, the guitarist for Meadow Mountain Bluegrass. "We attempt to bridge the gap between traditional and progressive bluegrass sounds."

Evolution of grass

Many of the string bands at the forefront of the progressive bluegrass movement started with an understanding of the genre's origins and its foundational sound and structure. Using its instrumentation, these modern string bands add their own flair.

"Yonder Mountain String Band and String Cheese Incident were big influences. They really opened up ideas of a more progressive bluegrass. They helped the music evolve," Greuel said.

Bluegrass seems to be at its most progressive state thus far.

"White bluegrass has its roots in the Appalachian Mountains of the Eastern United States, it has been fully embraced here in our Rocky Mountains. Colorado is a hot bed for bluegrass bands and bluegrass blends," Russer said.

The Colorado progressive bluegrass scene is one that's widely recognized by string musicians nationwide.

"As string musicians, we think about returning to Colorado often. There is a good scene there," Greuel said.

For those that follow the genre, it's a very exciting time.

"Our hope is to showcase some of Colorado's rich musical depth, especially bluegrass, which is a genre that really speaks to the people," Wetherbee said.

IF YOU GO …

Times are approximate and subject to change.

Friday, Jan. 20

7 p.m. — Thunder and Rain: A Golden-based band specializing in mountain-made Colorado country. In their brief tenure together as Thunder and Rain, the band has captured a sound that accentuates its talents and is accessible to fans both young and old depth and unforgettable melodies are putting meaning back into modern country music.

8:15 p.m. — The Pine Beatles: A community-based band in Breckenridge. The Pine Beatles are as cheeky and irreverent as their name. Born from the simple desire among friends to play and share music with others, the band began with spontaneous Sunday evening jams.

9:30 p.m. — Horseshoes and Hand Grenades: Progressive, high-energy string band with roots in old-time, folk and bluegrass. Hailing from the river town of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades plays something like progressive high-energy old-time folk music. With strong roots in old-time and bluegrass, the band has formed its own unique style born from the diverse musical backgrounds and interests of the five friends who make up the band.

Saturday, Jan. 21

7 p.m. — Meadow Mountain Bluegrass: Vail-based bluegrass and new acoustic band seeking to align the visions of hipsters, hillbillies and hippies. All five members of this band have an unwavering love of American roots music. They combine strong compositional elements with an ability to improvise and create melodic ideas in the moment.

8:15 p.m. — Caribou Mountain Collective: Winners of the 2014 Rockygrass Bluegrass Band Competition, Caribou Mountain Collective is a quartet from Nederland. Its extensive original repertoire channels the rich traditions of Appalachia and Colorado bluegrass, and original lyrics and instrumental compositions present unique facets of Americana.

9:30 p.m. — The Lil’ Smokies: Winners of the 2016 International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Momentum Award for Best Band. With their roots submerged in traditional bluegrass, The Lil’ Smokies have blossomed into a leading player in the progressive acoustic sphere, creating a melody-driven sound of their own. This five-piece bluegrass ensemble features Andy Dunnigan (dobro), Scott Parker (upright bass), Matt Cornette (banjo), Jake Simpson (fiddle) and Matt Rieger (guitar).