Pickathon 2019 announces Afrofuturist jazz, Turkish psych, Swedish garage punk, Montréal indie rock, Appalachian folk, and much more ...
Mandolin Orange Tyler Childers Lambchop Laura Veirs Julia Jacklin Courtney Marie Andrews Altin Gün Jupiter & Okwess Black Belt Eagle Scout Martha Scanlan and Jon Neufeld Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys ...
Nestled into the hills outside Portland, OR, Pickathon has built a reputation over the last twenty years as the best festival experience, combining groundbreaking programming focused on discovery, sustainable ethics, and a lineup that pushes the boundaries of genre. For artists and fans in the know, Pickathon is the festival you attend to drink from the well of discovery, to find a new artist, a new band, and a new inspiration. Each performance is a curated event, each venue a masterwork of modern design, and audiences at Pickathon are as entranced by the immersive nature of the festival as they are the genre-smashing lineup. Committed to environmental and community sustainability, Pickathon is an industry leading zero waste festival, generating an ethos of cultural responsibility that infuses every aspect of the festival. Pickathon redefines the music festival experience.
2019 Lineup Highlights: Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Khruangbin, Mandolin Orange, Tyler Childers, Nathaniel Rateliff, Lucius, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Fruit Bats, Mountain Man, Caamp, YOB, Damien Jurado, Makaya McCraven, The Richard Swift Hex Band, Lambchop, Laura Veirs, Julia Jacklin, The Marías, Ibibio Sound Machine, Dan Mangan, Altin Gün, Miya Folick, Sudan Archives, Courtney Marie Andrews, Lido Pimienta, Cedric Burnside, The Beths, Sam Evian, and more!
Walking onto the festival grounds at Pendarvis Farm in the small town of Happy Valley, OR, you can see what draws artists back year after year. Pickathon is a riot for the eyes. Flown fabric in geometric designs towers over the stages, inflatable illuminated art lights the forest paths at night, sculptures and sound installations are tucked into lost corners of the woods. Each stage is visually spectacular, from the woven branches that make a towering shell of the Woods stage to the award-worthy architecture of the Treeline stage. The Mt. Hood Stage, the mainstage of Pickathon, was ringed with living gardens in 2018, and the festival makes use of rustic, picturesque existing buildings like the late-night-raging Galaxy Barn, or the interview-focused Lucky Barn. Each artist’s sets are curated specifically to each stage and the timing of each set is meticulously planned, all to inspire the artists to new heights and historic performances.
Pickathon has created an artistic vision that lasts much longer than the four days of the festival. Each performance at the festival is a kind of perfect moment, created by careful curation, aesthetically designed stages/venues, and a story for each performance space. The idea is that each moment of performance is curated into a narrative vision. For example, The Slab, which is a private session spot at Pickathon, is built as a post-apocalyptic wasteland for some of the grittier performances. The Starlight Stage, drenched in neon late at night, induces a spaced-out feeling of music in warpdrive. It’s almost as if each venue was conceived as its own television program and each performance was a single episode of that show. During the festival an army of audio and visual specialists capture these performances, and then, over the months between festivals, Pickathon rolls out hundreds of videos, each an episode of their larger narrative. In this way, the festival experience extends year round.
Bringing each curated moment to life and then documenting it is the responsibility of a huge number of professionals during Pickathon. Over 600 people are involved in the audio and visual crews at the festival, and the level of tech that goes into capturing Pickathon is far beyond the scope of even much larger festivals. Each set is shot with multiple HD cameras, and is live cut in special video editing booths on the festival grounds. Cameras used aren’t limited to what can be held by the camera operators, Pickathon also uses cameras on cranes, on wires, and attached to drones to get larger aerial footage of the festival. As each stage and session performance is being recorded by Pickathon’s vast camera crew, separate crews rove the festival creating content for mini documentaries and web series. These are then edited at the festival to be added to the live stream. Using top-flight resources and a carefully trained crew of some of the best audio/visual specialists in the Northwest, Pickathon’s able to provide a live festival stream that’s on par with broadcast television.
Aside from this year’s headliners, Pickathon operates primarily as a discovery engine. Festival director Zale Schoenborn and Pickathon co-producer Terry Groves know full well that many of the bands booked at the festival have only a small draw in the surrounding area of Portland, Oregon, but Pickathon’s predicated on the need for new inspiration, new sounds, and new ideas in music and culture. Each year, Pickathon reaches out to a wide collection of tastemakers in many genres, asking each to recommend the bands that they feel are the most innovative and most contemporary. This philosophy of booking has proven itself time and again, first with bringing on artists early in their career right before they break (like Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, Shakey Graves, Lake Street Dive, The Avett Brothers, The War & Treaty, Kevin Morby, Future Islands, Leon Bridges, Daniel Norgren, DakhaBrakha, Billy Strings, and Courtney Barnett), and then with the inspiration shared between like-minded artists across genres. It’s commonplace to see artists wandering backstage between sets, soaking up new ideas from new bands that they’re also discovering, and pushing their booking agents to.
Over the past nine years, Pickathon has initiated innovative, industry-leading measures with the big picture goal of eliminating 100% of the single use waste created onsite. With the help of Klean Kanteen, in 2010 Pickathon became the first music festival to eliminate all single use cups and water bottles. Since 2011, with the help of Bambooware, Pickathon became the first large American outdoor music festival to eliminate all single use dishware and utensils. These initiatives have helped us reduce the volume of garbage going from Pendarvis Farm to the landfill each year by over 50% since 2009.
The world is rarely what it seems. A quick glance doesn’t always reveal the full truth. To find that, you need to burrow deeper. Listen to Altın Gün, for example: they sound utterly Turkish, but only one of the Netherlands based band’s six members was actually born there. And while their new album, Gece, is absolutely electric, filled with funk-like grooves and explosive psychedelic textures, what they play – by their own estimation – is folk music. “It really is,” insists band founder and bass player Jasper Verhulst. “The songs come out of a long tradition. This is music that tries to be a voice for a lot of other people.”
While most of the material here has been a familiar part of Turkish life for many years – some of it associated with the late national icon Neşet Ertaş – it’s definitely never been heard like this before. This music is electric Turkish history, shot through with a heady buzz of 21st century intensity. “We do have a weak spot for the music of the late ‘60s and ‘70s,” Verhulst admits. “With all the instruments and effects that arrived then, it was an exciting time. Everything was new, and it still feels fresh. We’re not trying to copy it, but these are the sounds we like and we’re trying to make them our own.”
And what they create really is theirs. Altın Gün radically reimagine an entire tradition. The electric saz (a three-string Turkish lute) and voice of Erdinç Ecevit (who has Turkish roots) is urgent and immediately distinctive, while keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, and percussion power the surging rhythms and Merve Daşdemir (born and raised in Istanbul) sings with the mesmerizing power of a young Grace Slick. This isn’t music that seduces the listener: it demands attention.
Altın Gün – the name translates as “golden day” – are focused, relentless and absolutely assured in what they do. What is remarkable is the band has only existed for two years and didn’t play in public until November 2017; now they have almost 200 shows under their belt. It all grew from Verhulst’s obsession with Turkish music. He’d been aware of it for some time but a trip to Istanbul while playing in another band gave him the chance to discover so much more. But Verhulst wasn’t content to just listen, he had a vision for what the music could be. And Altın Gün was born.
“For me, finding out about this music is crate digging,” he admits. “None of it is widely available in the Netherlands. Of course, since our singers are Turkish, they know many of these pieces. All this is part of the country’s musical past, their heritage, like ‘House of The Rising Sun’ is in America.” As Verhulst delves deeper and deeper into old Turkish music, he’s constantly seeking out things that grab his ear. “I’m listening for something we can change and make into our own. You have to understand that most of these songs have had hundreds of different interpretations over the years. We need something that will make people stop and listen, as if it’s the first time they’ve heard it.”
It’s a testament to Altın Gün’s work and vision that everything on Gece sounds so cohesive. They bring together music from many different Anatolian sources (the only original is the improvised piece “Şoför Bey”) so that it bristles with the power and tightness of a rock band; echoing new textures and radiating a spectrum of vibrant color (ironic, as gece means “night” in Turkish). It’s the sound of a band both committed to its sources and excitedly transforming them. It’s the sound of Altın Gün. Incandescent and sweltering.
Creating the band’s sound is very much a collaborative process, Verhulst explains. “Sometimes me or the singer will come in with a demo of our ideas. Sometimes an idea will just come up and we’ll work on it together at rehearsals. However we start, it’s always finished by the whole band. We can feel very quickly if it’s going to work, if this is really our song.”
Just how Altın Gün can collectively spark and burn is evident in the YouTube concert video they made for the legendary Seattle radio station KEXP. In just under 20 minutes they set out their irresistible manifesto for an electrified, contemporary Turkish folk rock. It’s utterly compelling. And with around 800,000 views, it has helped make them known around the world. “It certainly got us a lot of attention,” Verhulst agrees. “I think a lot of that interest originally came from Turkey, plenty of people there shared it.”
That might be how it began, but it’s not the whole tale. The waves have spread far beyond the Bosphorus. What started out as a deep passion for Turkish folk and psychedelia has taken on a resonance that now travels widely. The band has played all over Europe, has ventured to Turkey and Australia and will soon bring their music to North America for the first time. “Not a lot of other bands are doing what we do,” he says, “playing songs in that style and seeing folk music in the same way.”
Mandolin Orange’s music radiates a mysterious warmth—their songs feel like whispered secrets, one hand cupped to your ear. The North Carolina duo have built a steady and growing fanbase with this kind of intimacy, and on Tides of A Teardrop, due out February 1, it is more potent than ever. By all accounts, it is the duo’s fullest, richest, and most personal effort. You can hear the air between them—the taut space of shared understanding, as palpable as a magnetic field, that makes their music sound like two halves of an endlessly completing thought. Singer-songwriter Andrew Marlin and multi-instrumentalist Emily Frantz have honed this lamp glow intimacy for years.
On Tides of A Teardrop, Marlin wrote the songs, as he usually does, in a sort of stream of consciousness, allowing words and phrases to pour out of him as he hunted for the chords and melodies. Then, as he went back to sharpen what he found, he found something troubling and profound. Intimations of loss have always haunted the edges of their music, their lyrics hinting at impermanence and passing of time. But Tides of A Teardrop confronts a defining loss head-on: Marlin’s mother, who died of complications from surgery when he was 18.
These songs, as well as their sentiments, remain simple and quiet, like all of their music. But beneath the hushed surface, they are staggeringly straightforward. “I’ve been holding on to the grief for a long time. In some ways I associated the grief and the loss with remembering my mom. I feel like I’ve mourned long enough. I’m ready to bring forth some happier memories now, to just remember her as a living being.”
For this album, Marlin and Frantz enlisted their touring band, who they also worked with on their last album Blindfaller. Having recorded all previous albums live in the studio, they approached the recording process in a different way this time. “We went and did what most people do, which we’ve never done before—we just holed up somewhere and worked the tunes out together,” Frantz says. There is a telepathy and warmth in the interplay on Tides of A Teardrop that brings a new dynamic to the foreground—that holy silence between notes, the air that charges the album with such profound intimacy. “This record is a little more cosmic, almost in a spiritual way—the space between the notes was there to suggest all those empty spaces the record touches on,” acknowledges Marlin. There are many powerful ways of acknowledging loss; sometimes the most powerful one is saying nothing at all.
Like many great Southern storytellers, singer-songwriter Tyler Childers has fallen in love with a place. The people, landmarks and legendary moments from his childhood home of Lawrence County, Kentucky, populate the 10 songs in his formidable debut, Purgatory, an album that’s simultaneously modern and as ancient as the Appalachian Mountains in which events unfold.
The album, co-produced by Grammy Award winners Sturgill Simpson and David Ferguson, is a semiautobiographical sketch of Childers’ growth from wayward youth to happily married man, told in the tradition of a Southern gothic novel with a classic noir antihero who may just be irredeemable. Purgatory is a chiaroscuro painting with darkness framing light in high relief. There’s catharsis and redemption. Sin and temptation. Murder and deceit. Demons and angels. Moonshine and cocaine. So much moonshine and cocaine. All played out on the large, colorful canvas of Eastern Kentucky. Childers had been searching for a certain sound for his debut album for years as he honed his craft, and was finding it elusive when his friend, drummer Miles Miller, introduced him to Simpson, the Grammy Award-winning musician and fellow Kentuckian. Childers sent Simpson a group of his songs, then went to visit him in Nashville. “And he said, ‘There’s this sound. I know what you’re trying to get at, the mountain sound,'” Childers recalled. “‘So I asked, ‘What are you doing?'”
Intrigued, Simpson enlisted the aid of Ferguson, the Grammy Award winning sound engineer. They assembled a band that included multi-instrumentalists Stuart Duncan, Michael J. Henderson and Russ Pahl, bassist Michael Bub and Miller on drums, of course, and helped Childers make a debut album of consequence that announces an authentic new voice. “I was writing an album about being in the mountains,” Childers said. “I wanted it to have that gritty mountain sound. But at the same time, I wanted a more modern version of it that a younger generation can listen to — the people I grew up with, something I’d want to listen to.”
The second full-length album from Australian singer/songwriter Julia Jacklin, Crushing embodies every possible meaning of its title word. It’s an album formed from sheer intensity of feeling, an in-the-moment narrative of heartbreak and infatuation. And with her storytelling centered on bodies and crossed boundaries and smothering closeness, Crushing reveals how our physical experience of the world shapes and sometimes distorts our inner lives. “This album came from spending two years touring and being in a relationship, and feeling like I never had any space of my own,” says the Melbourne-based artist. “For a long time I felt like my head was full of fear and my body was just this functional thing that carried me from point A to B, and writing these songs was like rejoining the two.”
The follow-up to her 2016 debut Don’t Let the Kids Win, Crushing finds Jacklin continually acknowledging what’s expected of her, then gracefully rejecting those expectations. As a result, the album invites self-examination and a possible shift in the listener’s way of getting around the world—an effect that has everything to do with Jacklin’s openness about her own experience. “I used to be so worried about seeming demanding that I’d put up with anything, which I think is common—you want to be chill and cool, but it ends up taking so much of your emotional energy,” says Jacklin. “Now I’ve gotten used to calling out things I’m not okay with, instead of just burying my feelings to make it easier on everyone. I’ve realized that in order to keep the peace, you have to speak up for yourself and say what you really want.”
Produced by Burke Reid (Courtney Barnett, The Drones) and recorded at The Grove Studios (a bushland hideaway built by INXS’ Garry Gary Beers), Crushing sets Jacklin’s understated defiance against a raw yet luminous sonic backdrop. “In all the songs, you can hear every sound from every instrument; you can hear my throat and hear me breathing,” she says. “It was really important to me that you can hear everything for the whole record, without any studio tricks getting in the way.” On the album-opening lead single “Body,” Jacklin proves the power of that approach, turning out a mesmerizing vocal performance even as she slips into the slightest murmur. A starkly composed portrait of a breakup, the song bears an often-bracing intimacy, a sense that you’re right in the room with Jacklin as she lays her heart out. And as “Body” wanders and drifts, Jacklin establishes Crushing as an album that exists entirely on its own time, a work that’s willfully unhurried.
From there, Crushing shifts into the slow-building urgency of “Head Alone,” a pointed and electrifying anthem of refusal (sample lyric: “I don’t want to be touched all the time/I raised my body up to be mine”). “As a woman, in my case as a touring musician, the way you’re touched is different from your male bandmates—by strangers and by those close to you,” notes Jacklin. On the full-tilt, harmony-spiked “Pressure to Party,” she pushes toward another form of emotional freedom. “When you come out of a relationship, there’s so much pressure to act a certain way,” says Jacklin. “First it’s like, ‘Oh, you’ve gotta take some time for yourself’…but then if you take too much time it’s, ‘You’ve gotta get back out there!’ That song is just my three-minute scream, saying I’m going to do what I need to do, when I need to do it.” Crushing also shows Jacklin’s autonomy on songs like “Convention,” an eye-rolling dismissal of unsolicited advice, presented in elegantly sardonic lyrics (“I can tell you won’t sleep well, if you don’t teach me how to do it right”).
Elsewhere on Crushing, Jacklin brings her exacting reflection to songs on loss. With its transportive harmonies and slow-burning guitar solo, “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You” ponders the heartache in fading affection (“I want your mother to stay friends with mine/I want this feeling to pass in time”). Meanwhile, on “Turn Me Down”—an idiosyncratically arranged track embedded with hypnotic guitar tones—Jacklin gives an exquisitely painful glimpse at unrequited devotion (“He took my hand, said I see a bright future/I’m just not sure that you’re in it”). “That song destroyed me in the studio,” says Jacklin of “Turn Me Down,” whose middle section contains a particularly devastating vocal performance. “I remember lying on the floor in a total state between what felt like endless takes, and if you listen it kind of sounds like I’m losing my mind.” And on “When the Family Flies In,” Jacklin shares her first ever piano-driven piece, a beautifully muted elegy for the same friend to whom she dedicated Don’t Let the Kids Win. “There are really no words to do justice to what it feels like to lose a friend,” says Jacklin. “It felt a bit cheap to even try to write a song about it, but this one came out on tour and it finally felt okay to record.
Despite its complexity, Crushing unfolds with an ease that echoes Jacklin’s newfound self-reliance as an artist. Originally from the Blue Mountains, she grew up on her parents’ Billy Bragg and Doris Day records and sang in musicals as a child, then started writing her own songs in her early 20s. “With the first album I was so nervous and didn’t quite see myself as a musician yet, but after touring for two years, I’ve come to feel like I deserve to be in that space,” she says.
Throughout Crushing, that sense of confidence manifests in one of the most essential elements of the album: the captivating strength of Jacklin’s lyrics. Not only proof of her ingenuity and artistic generosity, Jacklin’s uncompromising specificity and infinitely unpredictable turns of phrase ultimately spring from a certain self-possession in the songwriting process. “As I was making this album there was sort of a slow loosening of pressure on myself,” Jacklin says. “There’ve been some big life changes for me over the last few years, and I just found it too tiring to try to cover things up with a lot of metaphors and word trickery. I just wanted to lay it all out there and trust that, especially at such a tense moment in time, other people might want to hear a little vulnerability.”
Courtney Marie Andrews
Courtney Marie Andrews spent over nine months of 2017 on the road, with multiple trips across the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. That’s nothing new for Andrews, though. She’s been touring relentlessly since leaving her Arizona hometown at 16. It’s a life that inspired much of her 2016 breakthrough album, Honest Life. While that album’s themes spoke to the isolation and rootlessness inherent in a life on the road, most of its songs were actually written during an intentional, extended break. The success that followed its release, however, didn’t afford her the same break to write the material for her new album.
Although May Your Kindness Remain was predominately written on the road — in the van, in hotels, and in the homes of family and friends — it’s not a road record like its predecessor. That is, it’s not so much inspired by her life on the road so much as it is by the people she’s met along the way. It’s an inward reflection on the connectivity of their stories and her own. “More than anything,” she says, “it got me thinking about my childhood, and the people around me that I’ve known, and the stories that come from my family. It became clear how many people are struggling through the same issues.”
May Your Kindness Remain is full of vivid depictions of complex people and places with all too common struggles. Much of the album deals with the psychological and relational impact of the unrealistic picture of success that is so embedded in modern American culture. “People are constantly chasing that bigger life. A lot of people are poor in America — and because of those unattainable goals, they’re also mentally unstable, or sad, or depressed or unfulfilled. A lot of people — myself included at some point in my life — are loving somebody through this. That’s sort of the theme of the record: coming to terms with depression and the reality of the world we’re living in. Mental illness is a taboo in this culture — or not taken seriously. I’ve grown up around it a lot, and sort of feel like I understand it from all sides.”
There are no simple answers in these songs. There’s just an acknowledgement of our shared hardships and a call for empathy. Despite its characters’ burdens, May Your Kindness Remain isn’t downtrodden. There’s a defiance built into its melancholy, a sense that even the most complicated problems are worth facing — a sentiment that also explains why the album’s music refuses to stay within any rigid sonic boundaries.
While Andrews self-produced Honest Life, she knew this one had to be different. To record May Your Kindness Remain, her restless side took over. “It’s very characteristic to how I work — I need to be shaken up,” she says. “I was like, ‘I need to change something, and create something different, and push myself in a different direction. I knew I wanted to make a more modern, unique sounding record.” She found that direction thanks to a bit of serendipity. All at once, she began noticing Mark Howard’s name on several of her favorite records. She was consistently drawn to the resonant depth of the sound and tone in the albums he had done with luminaries like Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris and Tom Waits. With nothing to lose, her manager messaged him about producing the new record.
The inquiry was a success: months later, Andrews and her band found themselves in a rented house in Los Angeles, overlooking the city’s skyline, making May Your Kindness Remain with Howard at the helm. “I wanted to make a record in L.A.,” she says. “In that house, overlooking a city that epitomizes both America’s diversity and also the commonality of very real struggles against often unrealistic hopes and dreams.” Andrews recalls Howard saying that he liked “making records that you can live in.” To her, it felt intuitive, natural and spontaneous — an extension of the songwriting process that went into these songs. Howard, Andrews and the band lived in that house for eight days, barely fitting it in between two tours. As is Howard’s custom, the house was the studio. He brought all the gear, recording everyone in the same room to a live board, live off the floor. “A lot of the record is either the first take or we did just one overdub,” Andrews says. “Nothing’s overthought.” The band set up in a circle, watching each other across the room as they played each song live.
As a result, the album sounds intimate and warm, as if listeners are in the house with them, watching it all unfold. While May Your Kindness Remain is Andrews’ fullest sounding record to date, the songs and her vocals are never eclipsed. “Mark’s really good about stripping the song down to the bones, and asking, ‘Where is the song in this? And how do we make the song come out while still having great instrumentation?’” Andrews recalls. Still, the album’s arrangements are meticulous. Unlike the predominantly acoustic guitar based Honest Life, May Your Kindness Remain builds around Andrews’ songs with heavy lead guitar (Dillon Warnek) and keys riffs (Daniel Walker, Charles Wicklander). Having played with Andrews for years, the rhythm section (Alex Sabel, bass; William Mapp, drums, percussion) fills the sound as naturally as you’d expect. There was no click track for Mapp, adding to the album’s sentient, live feel.
Every instrument and sound on the album has their proper place, across diverse styles: proud piano ballads (“Rough Around the Edges”); easygoing, country-tinted rock (“Kindness of Strangers”); and biting, sarcastic folk gems (“I’ve Hurt Worse”). Gospel singer C.C. White adds backing vocals throughout, including on the stunning title track, a striking statement of purpose that blooms at the end thanks to layers of soulful harmonies. “When C.C. was singing her parts,” Andrews remembers, “I just laid there on the floor, both comforted and blown away.”
Andrews’ own vocals are notably more powerful and soulful — especially on the organ-heavy blues number “Border”, with a ragged weariness that honors the immigrant’s resilience in the face of blatant thoughtlessness and racism; and “Took You Up”, a take on accepting love as a simple offering before any illusion of wealth or success. Her vocal performances reflect her recent listening habits, which include Motown and soul, as well as albums by the eclectic rock band Little Feat. They also point to her confidence and growing range as a live vocalist. “I subconsciously started incorporating more vocal stretching in my songs, just because of how fun that was,” she says. “I’ve always been really inspired by soul singers. I can sing like that — but I never really had before.”
In the end, May Your Kindness Remain finds Andrews at home in her restlessness, embracing her intuition. It has stretched her vocals, her sound and her songwriting to new depths and produced a brave record — a record that is unafraid of addressing the complexities of life in order to find common ground and understanding, no matter how divided this world may seem.
Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno
Vivian Leva’s voice is the sound of living tradition. Raised by parents who absorbed ancient tunes and ballads during visits to legendary old-time musicians, Leva grew up steeped in the Appalachian and country music of her Lexington, VA home. On 2018’s Time Is Everything, her label debut on Free Dirt Records, Leva earns a spot in the lineage of great neo-traditional songwriters like Gillian Welch and Sarah Jarosz. And much like these singers, Leva finds inspiration in the past without being stifled by it.
It is unsurprising that she found an instant musical connection upon meeting Riley Calcagno at a fiddle festival in Washington state. Calcagno, who also spent his formative years immersed in traditional music through his playing with the widely recognized band The Onlies, appears throughout Leva’s debut album, acting as co-producer and adding banjo, fiddle, guitar, mandolin and harmonies. Whether on recording or in concert, Leva and Calcagno’s vibrant and magnetic harmonies shift effortlessly between archaic ballads, classic country and honky tonk, and the best of contemporary Americana, imbuing each story of love, passing time, and heartbreak with a hearty emotional punch.
It’s rare to find such mature and confident voices in such young artists—whose music springs so organically from a grassroots connection to the traditional music community in which they were raised. Since the record’s release Leva and Calcagno have toured as a duo across Canada, the US, and the UK, and received wide critical praise. Rolling Stone Country wrote that Time is Everything “shines a light on the past without giving up its place in the present” and Wide Open Country called the record “a triumph of lyricism and musicianship.” As individuals, they have performed with Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, Donna the Buffalo, and Bruce Molsky to name just a few. To this collaboration they bring both the steady hands of experience and a refined taste for American music, yet still a youthful abandon that can’t be forced.
The Po' Ramblin' Boys
The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys passion for bluegrass is as clear as it is contagious. With their recent IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year Award, a heavy touring schedule across the United States and Europe, and recently signed record deal with the esteemed Rounder Records, the Boys are well on their way to becoming the quintessential bluegrass band of their generation.
At a time when most people feel constantly distracted by technology and barraged by the news, authenticity and straightforward honesty are paramount. There’s something about the music of The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys that cuts right through the noise of the world and speaks plainly to the soul. Formed in the Smoky Mountains, The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys are at once exactly what you would expect and not at all what you would expect from a tattooed East Tennessee Bluegrass outfit. No strangers to hard work, the boys are as much at home riding in their 1965 GM Tour bus as they are crawling underneath to fix it when it needs maintenance. But they take pride in being ambassadors of their genre, and the group has brought their music from rural bluegrass festival stages to the rock clubs of Europe, with stunning results. “I think to a certain extent everyone is just craving music that they can feel, and any music that feels real will reach any audience” says CJ Lewandowski, the groups founder, “We want to put bluegrass right where it’s least expected”.
Lewandowski was working at Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery in Sevierville, TN when the band first formed. The distillery employed musicians to play for visitors seven days a week, and Lewandowski, who primarily plays Mandolin and sings, was occasionally hired to fill in when the entertainment didn’t show. Eventually, the distillery approached him about forming a band for a full time slot, so he reached out to long time music friends Jereme Brown, who plays banjo for the group, and Josh Rinkel, who plays guitar. “Jereme was doing a lot of welding work at that time, and Josh was running a sign company”, says Lewandowski, “I think we were all ready to do something new, something with our music but we didn’t know when or how”. Bassist Jasper Lorentzen happened to be working in the tasting room at the distillery, and he turned out to be the perfect final addition to the band. The four friends played multiple times a week for a year and half, honing their band sound, meanwhile word was spreading about their music. “The first gig we played out of town was a festival in Alberta, Canada, and a week later we went on a two week tour of Europe, it was crazy”, says Lewandowski.
Material for the group’s debut album “Back To The Mountains”, was a combination of original songs and old numbers that honor the group’s mentors and bluegrass heroes. “We love to dig up old songs that haven’t been heard in years and bring them back into the spotlight”, explains Lewandowski. It’s no surprise, then, that their latest single “Next Train South”, is a song cut by one of Lewandowski’s teachers from his native Missouri. “This song hasn’t been recorded since 1974, when it was recorded by Dub Crouch, Norman Ford and the Bluegrass Rounders.” he says. “Dub was a guy that I learned from back in the day. He was a close friend, and I was with him the day before he died. He was a popular guy for his region, but his music was not as well known on the national circuit. That’s why we love to sing these songs, because when we take these songs and bring them to a larger audience, our heroes and their music will not be forgotten”.
The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys passion for bluegrass is as clear as it is contagious. With a heavy touring schedule across the United States and Europe and recently signed record deal with the esteemed Rounder Records, the Boys are well on their way to becoming the quintessential bluegrass band of their generation. Despite all of their recent success, they maintain a humble perspective. “Bluegrass has left such a mark on us that we feel like we owe something back to the music”, says Lewandowski. “We want to do something for the music to show our appreciation… There’s no telling what could have happened to us, what we would have become if we hadn’t found this music. It’s gotten us through a lot, the good and the bad. When I think about all of the damn medications that I didn’t have to take because I had music to turn to. We didn’t have to go to the doctor and pay for something to make us feel better, because we had this music, so we really want to honor it by bringing it out of the shadows and onto new stages and wider audiences. Because we know that if we can bring Bluegrass to new folks, those folks will come with us and support the bluegrass community.”
Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Pickathon (3) Altın Gün, (4) Mandolin Orange, (5) Tyler Childers, (6) Julia Jacklin, (7) Courtney Marie Andrews, (8) Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno, (9) The Po' Ramblin' Boys (unknown/website).