Berklee Bluegrass Bands Play Famed New York Festival

By 
Allen Bush
July 14, 2010

The Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival annually transforms the small, quiet Catskill Mountain hamlet of Oak Hill into a bluegrass boomtown, this year from July 15 to 18. Performers this year include Sam Bush, the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience, the Del McCoury Band, Crooked Still, the Greencards, and many others performing old time, traditional, and contemporary bluegrass and new grass. 

Also rolling into town will be the Berklee Roots Music Road Show, with Sierra HullCourtney HartmanFrankie's Little .44, the Up Jumpers, and Chasing Blue. Hard-driving or introspective, the student soloists and bands play bluegrass that embodies its earliest roots, yet stretches by the collected experiences of the guys and gals who have studied in the contemporary, international woodshed that is Berklee. While these artists perform on their own around Boston and across the U.S., together in the Road Show they represent the current generation of bluegrass players whose vitality is attracting more new students, musicians, and fans than has been seen in years.

The Berklee Roots Music Road Show performs on both July 16 and 17 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on the Master Stage. Berklee professor Dave Hollender will give an American Roots Music clinic on July 17 at noon, also on the Master Stage. For festival and ticket information, visit greyfoxbluegrass.com

It's a good bet that the Road Show will find even more pathways in the future. Berklee introduces its American Roots Music Programthis year to satisfy the surge of students who are plucking away at acoustic string instruments and exploring the roots of contemporary music. Directed by Matt Glaser, the American Roots Music Program will lead students to blues, gospel, folk, country, bluegrass, Cajun, Western swing, polka, Tex-Mex, and other styles through courses, visiting artists, concerts, and symposiums.

 

About the performers:

Berklee Presidential Scholarship recipient Sierra Hull, of Byrdstown, Tennessee, is no stranger to the spotlight. The New York Sun praised Hull as a "wonderfully adapt" mandolin player, and even bluegrass star Alison Krauss referred to her as "remarkably talented." Hull began playing the mandolin at 8 and was quickly noted for her inventive picking and musical maturity. Her first album, Angel Mountain, was released in 2002 and was purely instrumental. In 2008 she released the vocal-heavy Secrets, which displayed her vocal evolution in the six years that separated the two projects. Hull has appeared at the Great High Mountain Tour, on the Grand Ole Opry radio and TV shows, and has shared the stage with bluegrass legends such as Mountain Heart, Ricky Skaggs, and Krauss.   

Courtney Hartman grew up in northern Colorado. Her musical journey started at 3, when she got her first fiddle. A few years later, she picked up the mandolin and joined Mandomonium, a mandolin orchestra. At 11, she found her love for bluegrass guitar when her daddy asked her learn "Blackberry Blossom" on one so that she could teach it to him. That exercise inspired her, and within the next year she won two flatpick contests. She began writing her own music and performing throughout the U.S. with her siblings in their band, the Hartmans. Throughout high school, she continued to perform with the band and taught music lessons to more than 30 students. In 2008, she went to Slovakia with a bluegrass band to represent the U.S. at an international folk festival. 

Frankie's Little .44 was born of a stomp and a sway in the great state of West Virginia, and as a nod to a tale of murderous ex-lovers. Founding member Lucy Cochran played traditional fiddle tunes until she found herself band-less and in need of an excuse to travel while playing her beloved fiddle and banjo. After enjoying many rollicking shows on their southeastern turf, she moved operations to Berklee and found Etienne Cremieux, Ben Walters, and Alex Muri. Frankie's Little .44 is getting a rep for great singing, luscious female harmonies, hypnotic driving fiddling, spectacular originals, phenomenal bass, rock-solid guitar and mando, and raucous, yet tender old time music. 

Progressive string band the Up Jumpers infuse the traditional Appalachian and Ozark mountain music of their upbringing with elements of jazz, blues, and rock 'n roll. The band features Lukas Pool (clawhammer banjo, guitar, vocals), Jen Starsinic (fiddle, guitar, vocals), Jack Devereux (fiddle, mandolin, vocals), and special guest Charles Muench of River Wheel, on bass. With influences ranging from Roscoe Holcombe to Merle Travis to the Band, the Up Jumpers play groovin', drivin', and all-around fun and rowdy music.

Chasing Blue is Trent Freeman, Maggie MacKay, Suzanne Oleson, Mike Reese, and Chad Grey. The band plays hard-driving bluegrass with elements of blues, funk, rock, jazz, Texas swing, and traditional Canadian fiddle music. Influences include the Nashville Bluegrass Band, the Lonesome River Band, and the Infamous Stringdusters. Members of Chasing Blue met in a Berklee College of Music bluegrass ensemble in 2008. After a successful end-of-semester performance, appearing as Slim Wallet and the No Dough Boys, the group decided to change names and stay together. Chasing Blue plays a mix of original and traditional material with unique arrangements. Chasing Blue has played the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival, and showcased at the 2009 International Bluegrass Music Association in Nashville.