MUSIC BOX: Great Grass and Legendary Soul

By on August 9, 2016

Targhee Bluegrass Festival outdoes itself for year 29; Curtis Mayfield tribute funks up the Center.

Pokey LaFarge saddles up to Targhee Bluegrass Festival with vintage country swing on Friday.

Pokey LaFarge saddles up to Targhee Bluegrass Festival with vintage country swing on Friday.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Targhee Bluegrass Festival weekend is upon us. There’s not another event in the region that unites such a ready-to-pick, family friendly, laidback, top-notch musical community quite like it. Twenty-nine years of tradition has set the tone, but with the return of David Grisman Sextet and Sam Bush Band after hiatuses, and only one repeat act from 2015 (The Infamous Stringdusters—this time featuring vocalist Nicki Bluhm), this year’s lineup has bonus appeal.

There are also some familiar players that are featuring new projects. Fiddler Sara Watkins, of Nickel Creek fame, will be supporting her third solo album Young in All the Wrong Ways. You won’t hear as much of the innocence or as much fiddle playing, as she’s headed into folk, roots and pop-rock territory with fellow fiddler and the album’s producer, Gabe Witcher. At moments soft and eloquent, Watkins’ uncanny style floods emotion into this album along with guests Jim James, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan.

Speaking of side projects, Bluhm will be a resident featured vocalist of sorts. She’ll be lending her voice for the sharp-witted “acoustic mayhem” music of The Waybacks, who last appeared at the festival as Sunday headliners in 2010. Bettse Ellis, fiddler for the now disbanded hillbilly band The Wilders, has a new old-time duo with banjoist Clarke Wyatt, while fiddler Mark O’Connor returns with a family band.

As for festival newcomers making debuts, don’t miss an early set by Missoula’s The Lil Smokies. The band has been on a tear since winning the band competition at the 2015 Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Kicking off the whole shebang is singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier, who is also teaching the songwriting class at Targhee Music Camp. She makes it worth getting there early for the 4 p.m. kick-off on Friday. Pokey LaFarge has been making waves for quite some time with a vintage country-swing bounce that will add a tremendous amount of entertainment dynamo to the Friday lineup.

By my calculations, David Grisman last appeared at the festival in 2012 with his Quintet, this time bringing the Sextet. Regardless, it can be considered damn good “dawg” music that Grisman curates via folk, swing, bluegrass, Latin, jazz and gypsy that once included other Targhee alums Tony Rice, Mark O’Connor, Mike Marshall and Darol Anger. These days, the Sextet includes bassist Jim Kerwin, flutist Matt Eakle, percussionist George Marsh, and newest members guitarist George Cole and Chad Manning on violin, viola and mandolin. Yes, two mandolins, and that is part of his signature groove that you just don’t hear very often. Mandolins will grow exponentially for the traditional Saturday jam at the end of Sam Bush Band’s set.

Then on Saturday fiddler Sara Watkins picks her way onto the stage.

Then on Saturday fiddler Sara Watkins picks her way onto the stage.

Lord Huron is the black sheep, so to speak, of the Sunday lineup and perhaps the entire fest. Like Bon Iver or Jim James, he’s a fan of the reverb-drenched vocal tone, but unlike My Morning Jacket, he keeps a steady acoustic hand that equates to a folksy indie rock aesthetic that is paced a la M. Ward. In truth, though, he’s not out of place but rather a diversion from fast pickin’ grass, much like The Hillbenders preceding set will accomplish with the treatment of The Who’s Tommy, a double album rock opera that was released in 1969. Trampled by Turtles will close Sunday with some speed grass and a special chemistry that’s hard to define, yet it cannot be denied. Pick on.

Targhee Bluegrass Festival, Friday through Sunday at Grand Targhee Resort. All-ages. $79 per day, $229 for a three-day pass. GrandTarghee.com.

This B-Side is Mayfield

The B-Side Players transform Center for the Arts into a 70s soul haven Friday during a tribute to Curtis Mayfield.

The B-Side Players transform Center for the Arts into a 70s soul haven Friday during a tribute to Curtis Mayfield.

The B-Side Players have instigated legendary Latin funk throw-downs at the Knotty Pine over the last dozen or so years. Largely flying under the radar compared to funk mainstream outfits like Galactic, they deserve as much respect as their home state of California has given them.

It fits like a glove that the nine-piece ensemble will be paying tribute to the great soul legend of Curtis Mayfield, and the Center will be an ideal venue to feel the funk. PJH

B-Side Players: A Tribute to Curtis Mayfield, 8 p.m. Friday at Center Theater. $27. JHCenterForTheArts.com, 733-4900.

Aaron Davis is a decade-long writer of Music Box, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.

Targhee Bluegrass Fest Lineup

Friday

Mary Gauthier

The Lil’ Smokies

Pokey LaFarge

O’Connor Band ft. Mark O’Connor

The Infamous Stringdusters ft. Nicki Bluhm

LATE NIGHT in the Trap Bar: Screen Door Porch ($5)

Saturday

New Reeltime Travelers

Sara Watkins

Steep Canyon Rangers

David Grisman Sextet

The Waybacks ft. Nicki Bluhm

Sam Bush Band

LATE NIGHT in the Trap Bar: Kitchen Dwellers ($5/advance/$10 door)

Sunday

Betse & Clarke

HillBenders presents The Who’s “Tommy”

Lord Huron

Trampled By Turtles

LATE NIGHT in the Trap Bar: The Hillbenders ($5)

160810Music_PlanetPicks

WEDnesday

Ben Winship & Eli West (Warbirds Café), Jeff Austin Band (Knotty Pine), Songwriter’s Alley Open Mic ft. Mandy Rowden (Silver Dollar)

THURsday

Monophonics and Brian Maw Band (Victor City Park), Sneaky Pete & the Secret Weapons (Knotty Pine), Major Zephyr (Silver Dollar)

FRIday

BanjoBeats (Town Square Tavern)

SATurday

Bootleg Flyer (Silver Dollar), Grand Teton Music Festival Orchestra (Walk Festival Hall)

SUNday

Pinky & the Floyd and The Tiny Band (Village Commons), Open Mic (Pinky G’s)

Monday

JH Hootenanny (Dornan’s)

TUESday

One Ton Pig (Silver Dollar), Grand Teton Music Festival ft. Andrew Palmer Todd (Walk Festival Hall)

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About Aaron Davis

Aaron Davis is a decade-long writer of Music Box, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.

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