Recap: Basin Bluegrass Festival

On the night of July 13, 2018, Meadow Mountain drove through the thick woods of Vermont in search of a small festival that we were to play at the next morning. The festival was called Basin Bluegrass, and it takes place on a large swath of farmland just outside of the small town of Brandon, VT.

When we arrived in the darkness, it was raining, and we drove our van through a field of RVs to find a place to camp for the night. We set up our tents in the rain, and we woke up the next morning in the rain.

This video was shot that morning as we prepared for our set at 10am.



Tired and wet, we arrived at the stage and sound checked as the rain subsided. Festival goers emerged from their RVs and sat down at their lawn chairs around the stage to drink coffee as we played. We were introduced by the management as the veritable black sheep of the festival (in so many words), because we were the only band from the western side of the Mississippi. If I remember correctly, the MC said somethings along the lines of "Let's see how they do" to the festival goers wandering into the stage area before we started.

Our first set didn't have a large audience, but it was fun to play music in spite of having woken up on the wet ground just one hour earlier. The festival management was excited that we generally adhered to the traditional stylings of bluegrass. And the crowd was happy about that too, for this was no festival in the mountains of Colorado. This was a God-fearing, traditional Bluegrass gathering.

 This was the kind of festival where tents were uncommon. The 750ish festival goers were housed in a great RV city, complete with golf cart transportation, propane grills, large rugs strewn over the lawn, and flags of various military institutions and states (yes, including a confederate flag that was hung from a single RV veranda along the walkway).

Every set of traditional bluegrass music at Basin Bluegrass was decorated with evangelism and gospel songs. Most of the evening sets had a salute to the veterans in the audience, and throughout the day, there were repeats of songs like "I'll Fly Away" and "Angel Band".

Meadow Mountain was the wildcard at Basin Bluegrass. We didn't dress like anyone at the festival, we slept on the ground in tents at the outskirts of the RV city, and we played a style of music that, while paying respects to the old ways, was clearly subverting the expectations of the audience.

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And most of the audience loved it, except one guy, who rode his scooter right up to our merch booth after one of our sets to tell me that our music wasn't his cup of tea. As quickly as he said his piece, he turned his scooter and rode off through an alley of the great RV metropolis, never to be seen again by a member of this band.

We truly hope to go back to this one.

Two Bands That Inspire Us

1. Punch Brothers

It is hard to understate the influence that the Punch Brothers continue to have over the up and coming generation of acoustic musicians. For Bluegrass pickers between the age of 18-30, you can expect two pervasive narratives of how they came to love the genre.

 The first is that they were raised with the music. They grew up listening to radio broadcasts from The Opry, or their parents had a Ricky Skaggs album on repeat in the car as they drove to school every morning. Some were raised running around the yard while their parents picked fiddle tunes on the porch, and some grew up listening to Bluegrass gospel songs at church.

The second narrative is the defining narrative of this generation's engagement with the genre of Bluegrass. It is the story of musicians who grew up with music other than Bluegrass, and then entered the genre because they heard this new band that didn't sound like anything ever before produced.

Ask any young Bluegrass musician if the Punch Brothers have had an influence on them. I believe that most will say yes. There are many notable albums coming out now that have echoes of that influence. Even our debut record is unabashedly influenced by them. Songs like "Celestial Navigation" and "Radio Waves" wouldn’t exist without the Punch Brothers.

One of my sustaining memories is the night that Jack Dunlevie and I went to see the Punch Brothers at The Vilar Center in Beaver Creek. We were both aspiring guitarists at the time, and I remember hearing them play the Josh Ritter song "Another New World". Near the end of the song, the band starting swelling together, mimicking the rise and fall of heavy surf with their instruments. The whole thing got louder and louder until it held at a moment of climactic tension. All at once, amidst the overwhelming noise, the band members ceased their playing, cutting off in perfect unison from the cacophony and leaving the room buzzing with the echoes of the music.

I still remember the feeling I had in that song's wake. It was a feeling I now hope to instill in my audiences.

2. The Lonesome River Band

Is the wider Colorado Bluegrass audience ready for this band? Absolutely. Based on my field research, however, no one out here knows about them. By field research, I mean that whenever Meadow Mountain plays a Lonesome River Band song, I make sure the audience knows it is written or popularized by them. Whenever I say into the mic "This is a Lonesome River Band song" in Colorado, I hear crickets.

There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that The Lonesome River band is a far cry from what I would call "Colorado Bluegrass". While Colorado grassers are known for pushing genre boundaries and often taking a more exploratory approach to the music, bands like The Lonesome River Band are known for their adherence to the traditional styling of Bluegrass. While there is certainly a traditional scene in Colorado, it is a minuscule slice of the collective Colorado Bluegrass Lover pie chart.

The other reason that no one in Colorado knows about them is that The Lonesome River band NEVER comes to Colorado. They are an East Coast band in the true sense of the word. They keep an extensive show schedule while never straying too far from those Blue ridge Mountains.

Because of this, I was introduced to the band only because George Guthrie brought the good word across the plains from Virginia when he moved out to Colorado. He told me I should check them out, and within weeks I had two records on repeat for the greater part of a year. Those two records were "Carrying The Tradition" and "Coming Back Home To You".

Those records have had an immense impact on how Meadow Mountain approaches Bluegrass. This band was our entrance into expansive world of Country Bluegrass, otherwise known as "Mash", and it has informed how we think about rhythm and the various roles of the instruments as we write songs.

A word of advice: the older the Lonesome River Band Record, the better.

-S

February Tour: Wadhams, New York

On February 10th, we finally arrived in Wadhams, New York after touring along the East Coast for over a week. The small town lies a mile or so off of the shore of Lake Champlain, nestled up against a river in the adjacent woodlands.

When we pulled up in our van, the entire landscape was covered in snow, and the dam at the entrance of town was overrun with thick ice formations. This was in direct contrast to our last visit in July 2018.

July 2018

July 2018

February 2019

February 2019

On the corner in the center of town is Dogwood Bread company, which is run by a woman named Keri and her team of family and friends. Once a month, Keri hosts traveling bands at an apartment above the bakery. Bands come from all over the country to play for around sixty locals, who come from Wadhams and the surrounding areas to watch the music and enjoy good food.

When we pulled up in our van, Keri welcomed us with hugs and led us inside. We had a few hours to do laundry and relax before the show.

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People sat at various tables around the hardwood floor as we prepared to play that night, and some sat on bags of flour in the corner of the café. Many in attendance had seen us the first time we toured through Wadhams, which was seven months prior. A couple of people were even wearing Meadow Mountain shirts and singing along to our songs. They told us later that our CD was on rotation in their vehicle since the last show.

 The room was warm as we played, and I remember looking out at the road through the windows and noticing that cars never passed. Once every ten minutes, a truck would carve its way through the darkness outside, only to leave me with a feeling of isolation in tow. I couldn't think of a more welcome feeling after driving our large van through the streets of New York City only three days prior.

Wilson warms up before the show

Wilson warms up before the show

What a stark contrast! When we played in New York, we scrambled down the stairs to our show at Rockwood and played to an audience of roughly the same size. The only difference was how mobile everyone was. As soon as the show ended, people were darting off to their next engagement that night, and we were left hustling to pick up our gear and find parking with ten friends close behind. Our entire set of music was swallowed up by the big city.

In Wadhams, after our final song, the locals stayed around. We were the only event that night in town. No one had anywhere to go but home after the show, so the gathering lasted long after the music. We shared our stories of the road, and they shared stories of their hometown. The whole time we spent together, it was silent outside.

I met a man named Tom who took me ice skating the next day across miles of glassy ice in a bay off of Lake Champlain, and we met a man who ran the town's hydroelectric plant. He gave us a tour of the plant the following night, beers in hand.

A tour of the hydroelectric plant

A tour of the hydroelectric plant

Skating on Lake Champlain

Skating on Lake Champlain


There are many reasons that I love Dogwood Bread Company, but the thread that ties it all together is community. Dogwood is a town center. It is a place known for its open doors and good food. On any given night, Keri makes dinner for five to seven people, knowing that workers from the neighboring farm will stop in to eat and talk about the day. When bands come through, she makes dinner for sixty.

 We have been to Dogwood Bread Company twice, and I hope to go back many more times as we continue to share our music on the East Coast. It is a place of rest on the long road.

-Summers

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