Listening Now: Bluegrass for White Winters

Give a hollar!

In preparation for the Trampled by Turtles concert this weekend, I’ve been listening to a lot of bluegrass, which has made me nostalgic for my square dancing days in Arkansas.

We can thank Bill Monroe (the father of bluegrass) and his band The Bluegrass Boys for this subgenre of American roots music. Monroe and his band played music in a “mountain” style associated with sounds often found in the Appalachian mountains. We’re talking a lot of fast-paced lyrics, that country twang, banjos, mandolins, and guitars, all played with a lot of energy. Like if a toddler drank a lot of soda and got hyped on the banjo. Bluegrass borrows from folk, gospel, and jazz and today’s bluegrass even features electric guitars or synthesizers. What a world we live in.

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Indie Bluegrass

Trampled by Turtles

January 19 (Truman)

I’ve had “Wait So Long” running through my head all week. Trampled by Turtles is a leader within modern bluegrass. These guys tend to stick to what we think of when we think of “bluegrass” but they have the charming ability to go from the high energy of “Wait so long” to a sincere ballad like “Alone” that sounds like a cowboy’s lament.

Like the Punch Brothers, TBT is considered pretty progressive for their blend of niche genres. After his gear was stolen one night, Dave Simonett was forced to go back to the basics with an acoustic guitar. From there, he started putting together a new band with heavy influences of bluegrass, folk, and rock. Simonett hadn’t even played bluegrass music before TBT. Look at him now! That’s gotta give us all hope for our New Year’s resolutions.

For their eighth album, the band returned to their home state of Minnesota to record in a secluded cabin in the woods. And probably fight bears with awesome banjo riffs.

Intro: “Wait So Long,” “Alone,” new album “Life is Good on the Open Road”

For fans of Punch Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Wood Brothers, Avett Brothers.

Mandolin Orange

April 10 (Madrid Theater)

Mandolin Orange is the duo of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz who have an inviting warmth and charm. Similar to Nickel Creek or Elephant Revival, this duo has a way of delivering a fresh and easy sound without being overwhelming. Their work may appear simple, but it’s actually layers of years of both Frantz and Marlin mastering the fiddle, guitar, banjo, and vocals. The harmonies are tight, the energy is relaxing but bubbly. If you ever hoped to find another Nickel Creek, this is it.

Ease Into The Week With Mandolin Orange’s Ode To Slowing Down

Emily Frantz of Mandolin Orange on Why Simple Songs Are Timeless

Intro: Take This Heart of Gold, Amsterdam (Gregory Alan Isakov over), Time We Made Time, Hey Stranger

For fans of Milk Carton Kids, Langhorne Slim, Mipso, Sarah Jarosz, Elephant Revival.

I’m With Her

Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan, Sara Watkins
February 27 (Folly)

No, as all the articles will tell you, this is not a Hilary campaign. Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan, and Sara Watkins all hold their own in the bluegrass world. Each of them has sold out shows on their own, but together, they’re unstoppable. Watkins was one-third of Nickel Creek with her brother Sean Watkins and bandmate Chris Thile. O’Donovan sang on Yo-Yo Ma’s Goat Rodeo Sessions, and Jarosz won the best folk album at the 2017 Grammy’s.

The three of them often surround one microphone that absorbs harmonies so tight that you could mistake for them for sisters. They’re fantastic in concert. In a male-dominated genre, the three ladies have banded together with an air of encouraging camaraderie.

“The great thing about writing with friends is you can say what you’re trying to say without having to spell it out. There’s a lot of nuances,” O’Donovan said. If a song doesn’t work for all three of them, they work it till it does, or let it go.

After a few shows in the states and a European tour, we’ll get to see this trio here in KC in February accompanied by Mipso. It’s sure to be a pin-dropping show.

In Its Own Quiet Way, I’m With Her Is a Supergroup

I’m With Her: ‘We’re about camaraderie, not Hillary’

Intro: Hannah Hunt, Game to Lose, See You Around

It’s worth checking out each of their individual work too:

  • Sarah Jarosz: House of Mercy, Build Me Up From Bones

  • Sara Watkins: Without A Word, Young in All the Wrong Ways, You & I

  • Aoife O’Donovan: Ain’t No Grave (Crooked Still), Stanley Park, Red & White & Blue & Gold

For Fans of Punch Brothers, Ballroom Thieves, Wailin’ Jennys, David Rawlings Machine, Hawktail, Trampled By Turtles.


Elephant Revival

It is with bittersweet excitement that I tell you about Elephant Revival. This band has fantastic bluegrass energy as blue as the skies from their home state of Colorado. They announced a year ago that they will be on an indefinite hiatus due to family demands. But, thankfully, they produced 11 years worth of music, and I’m grateful that I got to experience their charisma in concert the day I graduated from college.

The lead singer Bonnie Paine has a very distinctive voice that sounds like a shaky echo but is chillingly lovely. Elephant Revival was a five-piece band of multi-instrumentalists that blended elements of folk and Americana with gypsy and Celtic elements. You can still listen to all their work on Spotify, but I recommend checking out some youtube videos just to see Bonnie play a saw. Yeah, like the thing you cut trees down with.

The End Of An Era For Elephant Revival At Red Rocks: Photos, Setlist & Videos

“Departing Ever So Gracefully:” Elephant Revival Says A Final Goodbye At Red Rocks [Videos/Photos]

Intro: Ring Around the Moon, Sing to the Mountain, Birds and Stars

For fans of The Shook Twins, Beta Radio, Trampled by Turtles, Mandolin Orange, Birdtalker, Darlingside, Caamp, The Oh Hellos.

Punch Brothers

You can’t dive into the bluegrass world without talking about the Punch Brothers. They’ve brought bluegrass back into the mainstream. After Nickel Creek called it quits, Chris Thile assembled an all-star bluegrass band of brothers with award-winning musicians like banjoist Noam Pikelny, Chris Eldridge (formerly of The Infamous Stringdusters), bassist Greg Garrison, and Gabe Witcher. The name comes from the Mark Twain short story “Punch, Brothers, Punch!” I think Mark Twain would definitely have listened to these guys. Recently, Chris Thile took over Prairie Home Companion and has been touring the show as a variety act called “Live From Here.” He was in KC just last weekend. The group worked with T-Bone Burnett (Bob Dylan’s publisher) to record their fourth album “The Phosphorescent Blues.” They. Are. Fantastic. In concert. Every time (what, like 5 times now?) I see them I smile the whole time, mostly because Chris Thile dances like a chicken (see below). They’re hilarious (Chris calls Noam “Pickles” on stage), endearing, engaging, and provoking. Admittedly, it’s really hard to be on your best behavior and sit still in the Kauffman Center while they perform “Rye Whiskey” and NOT stomp your feet.

Intro: Julep, All Ashore, My Oh My, Rye Whiskey

Check out some of their individual work too:

  • Chris Thile’s album “Thanks for Listening”

  • Noam Pikelny’s album “Universal Favorite”

  • Chris Eldridge and his previous band The Infamous Stringdusters

  • Paul Kowert and his new band Hawktail, an acoustic bluegrass-ish instrumental band

For fans of Nickel Creek, The Infamous Stringdusters, Chris Stapleton, Old Crow Medicine Show, Hurry for the Riffraff.

Noam Pikelny

I’m a HUGE Noam fan. As in, I shouted at him as he was running around the Kauffman before the show this fall. He’s literally one of the best banjo players on Earth right now. I saw him on a solo tour a few years ago and it was a dichotomy of a crowd: basically, a bunch of single girls and then a bunch of older white men who were very into banjo music. Noam’s humor is incredibly dry, as you will see in this absolute gem of a video about his latest album.

The Making of Universal Favorite: The Noam Pikelny Story << WATCH THIS


Willi Carlile

Finally, the best for last. My former square dance partner and a very talented banjo, mandolin, accordion, and guitar player, the great Willi Carlile Goehring. Willi and I met in Fayetteville, Arkansas at a coffee shop during a bluegrass/old-time jam session. I wrote about it here, when I interviewed him about how the old-time music scene grew like wildflowers in Fayetteville. His music is incredibly vulnerable. Pretty proud to know him. He comes through KC a lot, so catch him when you can. He also is on tour with an award-winning one-man-show play on the Fringe circuit.

Old Time Revival: Square Dancing in Fayetteville

Intro: The Small Things, Up the Hill, Cheap Cocaine

For fans of Dave Rawlings Machine, Punch Brothers, Tyler Childers.

More Bluegrass/Folk

Tyler Childers



Molly Tuttle

Humming House

Bela Fleck

Alison Krauss

Tyler Childers

Gillian Welch


On the Edge

The Show Ponies

River Whyless

Avett Brothers

Langhorne Slim



Mumford & Sons

Head & the Heart



Fleet Foxes


Hurray for the Riff Raff

Sturgill Simpson

To listen to all the artists mentioned, check out my Spotify playlist BLUEGRASS.

This week’s playlists

BLUEGRASS – All of this week’s artists
Indie Bluegrass
Grass Roots – feat. Trampled by Turtles
Fast Grass – feat. Hawktail
Picker’s Primer – a series with Punch Brothers members for every instrument
Banjo with Noam Pikelny
Mandolin with Chris Thile
Bass with Paul Kowert
Guitar with Chris Eldridge
Fiddle with Gabe Witcher
Bluegrass Origins – feat. Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass
Bluegrass Covers – feat. Sarah Jarosz

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