Celebrating 10 Years of the American Roots Music Program

By 
Bryan Parys
March 8, 2019

Listen to the artists performing at the program's commemorative concert, with genres ranging from folk to gospel to bluegrass.

Album art from the American Roots concert playlist

After a decade of exploring rural American musical genres from the first half of the 20th century, the Berklee Signature Series presents a commemorative concert celebrating the American Roots Music Program. The concert will showcase the talents of Berklee students, alumni, faculty, and visiting artists, ranging from mandolin virtuoso Sierra Hull '11 to early blues multi-instrumentalist Jerron "Blind Boy" Paxton. Take a listen to the playlist below to get a full sense of the range of styles, and hear what the program's founding artistic director Matt Glaser has to say about some of the performers taking the stage.

About the Artists

According to Matt Glaser, “The focus of this concert celebration is on people who’ve been at Berklee during this decade and come through the roots program." Here, Glaser describes some of the artists taking the stage for the Signature Series concert, commenting on their Berklee beginnings and connections:

Sierra Hull '11 and Molly Tuttle B.M. '14

"Sierra and Molly are both incredibly talented stars who play together. Both of them are the first women in the world of bluegrass who have been voted the best player at the bluegrass awards every year on their instruments—Sierra on mandolin and Molly on guitar. They’re deep musicians who are rooted in bluegrass, but have developed incredible instrumental, singing and compositional skills. Both are young, but they’re iconic already—both of them have had exhibits of their instruments and other memorabilia at the Country Music Hall of Fame.”

The Lonely Heartstring Band

"The Lonely Heartstring Band began at Berklee as a bluegrass Beatles cover band (the name is inspired by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). They are a group of five young virtuoso players and singers who have become one of America’s smoothest contemporary bluegrass bands. One of their specialties is doing bluegrass covers of pop and rock songs—more than just the Beatles now. But they also do a variety of other original music, and play at an incredibly high level."

Mile Twelve

"Mile Twelve is the most straight-ahead bluegrass band in this group. Their instrumentation is very traditional bluegrass: banjo, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, and bass. So their roots are in bluegrass, but they do a little experimental stuff too. It includes Bronwyn Keith-Hynes '12 on fiddle and Nate Sabat B.M. '15 on bass—both Berklee alumni.”

The Goodbye Girls

"The Goodbye Girls is an international band that has the great Swedish fiddler Lena Jonsson, who combines traditional Swedish folk music and old-time American fiddling. Molly Tuttle plays guitar and sings in that band. Brittany Karlson, an avant-garde composer and vocalist, is the bass player, and Allison de Groot, who plays banjo in Molsky’s Mountain Drifters, plays banjo with the group. They bring together four different streams of music from each of the four people.”

Twisted Pine

"Twisted Pine has amazing original songwriting chops and great roots in bluegrass, blues, and early jazz. They have no banjo at all, which frees them from the imprimatur of traditional bluegrass. They have mandolin, fiddle, guitar, and bass, all of which are also played in a variety of other styles that they draw upon. They take some influence from ragtime, as well as contemporary singer-songwriter techniques.”

Molsky’s Mountain Drifters

"Molsky's Mountain Drifters is an old-time trio led by visiting scholar Bruce Molsky. Bruce is America’s preeminent old-time fiddler, and he hired two alumni: Allison de Groot, a terrific banjo player, and Stash Wyslouch, a great heavy metal bluegrass player. They’re rooted in the old-time music that Bruce is the master of, but they draw connections between various threads of American music.”

Jenna Moynihan and Mairi Chaimbeul

"Jenna and Mairi are a duo of fiddle and Irish harp who are extraordinarily deep musicians at the leading edge of Celtic music—one of many ethnic threads that feed into what became American roots music. They’re at the top of the Celtic world.”

Donna McElroy

"Donna McElroy is one of the icons of Berklee. She’s deeply knowledgeable about gospel music and other kinds of music that have had a deep effect on American roots music. Her Jubilee Spirit Ensemble sings African American spirituals, paying homage to the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the powerful legacy of spirituals.”

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