Fort Collins and the northern portion of the Colorado Front Range in general are home to quite a lot of great bluegrass musicians. Many of our local bluegrass bands move away to cities like Nashville, L.A. or New York once they start becoming more nationally successful, but they still see Colorado as home. Thus, while nationally and internationally touring bands and artists like Celtic Thunder, Josh Groban and Paul Byrom may not really know where Fort Collins is, many bluegrass bands make a point of booking the Aggie, Mishiwaka Amphitheater, or some other, smaller venue here in town as a regular stop of their national tours. Bluegrass bands from elsewhere also visit these Fort Collins venues on their tours, so despite the fact that I live in Fort Collins, not Denver, I got to see one of the Nashville bluegrass bands I’ve written about in my songlist posts, in concert here in town at the very end of January.
Bearfoot Bluegrass Band actually originated in Alaska years ago, and only 2 of its original members remain. Joining Bearfoot on tour this winter was a bassist by the name of Mike Bub, who my bluegrass-fan friends were very excited about when we exchanged concert stories in the days following the Bearfoot concert. There was actually a second contemporary bluegrass band in town that night, Great American Taxi, who I had seen last August but who my friend missed at our big music festival New West Fest. She saw Great American Taxi, and thanks to some rude staff and a very packed crowd she had a lousy time despite hearing some fantastic music. So, she was doubly jealous to hear that I not only had a grand time at the Bearfoot show, but that I hung out to take pictures during the open bluegrass jam session the band kept going until almost 2am after their concert set. Mike Bub played with Del McCoury in his band for years and has played, says my friend, with all sorts of legendary bluegrass icons. I think I have seen him, and maybe even taken pictures of him on stage before, but that’s true of a lot of musicians now. He was a nice guy and a great bassist, so if he was in fact also a celebrity figure within bluegrass music, I’m glad I was unaware at the time.
Another face that was familiar to me in the Bearfoot band at this show was that of Megan McCormick, a woman who has had a solo music career in addition to her current work playing guitar and singing in Bearfoot. She is also a successful songwriter, writing songs for her own solo performances and for other artists. I probably saw her on television at some point back, though of course nothing I could find online jogged my memory enough to be sure. Anyway, Megan has a solo album out on spotify and available online at various music-sellers, Honest Words, which was released back in 2010. Lately she has been playing and touring as a member of Bearfoot, but she is still writing music as a songwriter for other people, and while she didn’t say so explicitly when I was talking with her, no doubt she is collecting a new batch of songs she would love to record as another solo project. (Click here to check her out on facebook.)
Bearfoot itself consists of Angela Oudean, Jason Norris, Megan McCormick and Todd Grebe. Without a proper conversation or two with the band, sorting out who played with whom outside Bearfoot, but it seems safe to say, after reading the bios on the band’s webpage, that these musicians knew one another prior to winding up in this ensemble. The fact that they sound so amazing together is thus more a result of craft and great musical judgement, not luck. And the fact that Mike Bub toured with them no doubt is because Mike and Todd have been working together in Todd’s country band Cold Country. To read more about these fantastic musicians (and thoroughly confuse yourself perhaps if you, like me, are trying to wind up with a logical linear biographical narrative on these four musicians out of the facts provided) check out the website for Bearfoot Bluegrass Band. I am sure that the other musical projects and ensembles these people have been involved in are worth checking out just as much as Bearfoot turned out to be.
|Alex T. Johnstone and Mike Finders|
A few of the people in the audience at the show this band gave in Fort Collins, at Avogadro’s Number (a very cool local restaurant & music venue) were disappointed because the concert set Bearfoot played on stage was not as long as many shows on that stage are. After the stage set, the band took a break to talk with people, sell merchandise and regroup at the back of the room as more musicians trickled in. Alex T. Johnstone and Mike Finders had opened the night’s show, and they wee still there with their instruments. An excellent banjo player by the name of Chris happened to be in the room during the stage set and joined Bearfoot for two songs on stage; he was still around. And gradually other musicians wandered in, not many, but enough.
On stage of course everything is a bit more rehearsed, but in jam sessions musicians can play those more challenging songs that might have to be improvised a bit more. They try out material they are still working on, and they play the songs they just really like. The stage set was cool, one of the best contemporary bluegrass shows I’ve seen, really, but the session afterwards was the part I was especially glad I didn’t miss- 2 fiddles, a banjo, 3 guitarists, 3 different people swapping out on Mike’s bass, all of these folks decidedly not amateurs on their instruments. A lot of the audience cleared out after the stage set, as it was unclear whether there would be more music- sessions do seem to start rather haphazardly, and often the really good stuff takes a while to get started. But, for the handful of people who stayed, we were treated to some of the best bluegrass we’ve had so far this year in Fort Collins, all in the casual relaxed atmosphere of a bunch of folks just hanging out and having fun. There are established weekly bluegrass sessions in the Fort Collins area, of course, and some of them generate some pretty decent music, but I doubt many of them really top this one.
Moral of the story: if you are at a bluegrass show and the artists say they are hanging out afterwards for a jam session, be patient. Playing music is an addiction for musicians, and while it may take a few minutes for them to start playing, they have a hard time resisting pulling their instruments out of their cases when they hear other musicians playing nearby. I wish I’d taken a video clip of Chris, the banjo player, while he was sitting in the audience, before he joined the band on stage, because he illustrated so perfectly how twitchy these musicians get when they sit holding their instruments unable yet to take them out and join in the music-making. The jam sessions that result from putting these musical souls together in one room with their toys are worth waiting around a little while.