The aspens are leafing, the rivers are rising and Telluride prepares to welcome the annual meeting of bluegrass festivarians for the 45th year in a row. The Telluride Bluegrass Festival’s mainstays are what draw the crowd year after year. With a house band that boasts Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Edgar Myer, Bryan Sutton and Stuart Duncan, it’s understandable to get star-struck.
In the weeks leading up to the June 21st kick off to Bluegrass KOTO would like to focus on the bands you may or may not have heard yet. What keeps the festival fresh and, in the bigger picture, what keeps bluegrass fresh, is the new arrivals to scene.
We’ll kick off the spotlight series with the front-range based band The Railsplitters. Lauren Stovall on guitar also leads the band with her strong vocals. Pete Sharpe on mandolin and vocals, Dusty Rider on banjo and vocals, Christine King on fiddle and Leslie Ziegler on the standup bass round out the quintet.
A collection of Boulder and Lyons-based musicians who came together playing in the RockyGrass scene, this group lists the Punch Brothers, Lake Street Drive and Joy Kills Sorrows as some of their biggest influences. With influences like these it’s no surprise that they have been touted by the music industry as a genre-bending band, breaking from the traditional bluegrass formula. I would argue that their sound is very much bluegrass if you what you’re looking for is a compelling story that spans generations and finds commonality with the audience. In the words of bluegrass great, Peter Rowan, who will also be performing at this year’s Bluegrass Festival: “To me, the importance of the music is in the songs… It’s about the poetic material. Bluegrass is part of a literary tradition, a poetic tradition.”
The members all boast impressive backgrounds in music education, therapy and community outreach. It’s no surprise that their newest album, Jump In, released in November 2017, has strong social and feminist messages. In To Do, the lyrics hit home to the experience of social injustice of women everywhere: “What’s a girl to do when every door around her has a sign that reads ‘Please use other door.’ What’s a girl to say when every man she meets thinks that he knows exactly who she ought to be.”
The lyrics are powerful and are backed by the undeniable musical talent of the group. For those who are looking for classic bluegrass picking, tracks such as Durango River and Citronella deliver. On their most recent tour, The Railsplitters opened for Yonder Mountain String Band and Stovall credits the time as moving them out of their studio sound “into something more loose.”
“Watching a band like that every night for 2 weeks straight was a huge influence,” she commented. “Seeing how they connected with their audience, we started experimenting with some of their approaches like giving more time for breaks and jamming them out more.”
The hype for this band, just 5 years into their journey and 3 albums released, is well-deserved.
They’ll be performing on the main stage from 12:15 to 1:15 p.m., Thursday, June 21st