With just one, intimidating stage, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival – one of the three big summer events that influence this blog more than any other – is not known to introduce the wealth of new faces each year that you’ll discover at a place like Newport or MerleFest. Keeping a lineup of perennial well-established bluegrass gods, the little guys in the mix are sometimes overshadowed by the usual suspects.
This year, Denver-based Trout Steak Revival will return to that little mountain town following a win at last year’s Telluride Band Contest. With their quick-picking Colorado bluegrass style, it’s no surprise the band was popular at Telluride and I felt this one early on. Last week, the five-member crew released Brighter Every Day (iTunes, Amazon & Spotify), their third album, which was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign last year and produced by Chris Pandolfi, the Denver-based banjoist in The Infamous Stringdusters and banjo instructor for Trout Steak’s Travis McNamara.
“I first met Chris as an instructor at the Rockygrass Academy,” McNamara said of the album in an interview. “Chris moved to Denver a couple years later, and I kept taking banjo lessons from him, and eventually I asked him if he would be interested in producing the record. He was an obvious choice for us, because we love the Stringdusters’ songs, arrangements, playing, taste – so many things.”
Brighter Every Day maintains a pace that Colorado bluegrass fans love – one spans poppy bluegrass group like Trampled by Turtles and even jam band, mind-blowing solo delivering acts like Yonder Mountain String Band (both bands also on the bill at Telluride this year), yet a spirit of promise that you can find in traditional bluegrass. “It is a collection of hopeful, positive songs,” McNamara said. “We’ve found through a lot of road-testing that those songs feel good to sing, and they make our audiences feel good, and then they give that positivity back to us at our live shows.”
That’s a theme that tends to resonate with the Telluride festivarians that helped the band build their following. “The people who supported us in the Band Competition were our friends that we made over the years camping and picking at the Town Park campground in Telluride and in towns we played all over the state, and they all came out to help us.”
Songs like “Wind On The Mountain,” my favorite off the new LP, give the album a bit of balance. The song is set on a hiking trip that took a dangerous turn – something I’d guess a lot of Telluride fans can appreciate. While not as shaking as a coal miner’s tale of survival that you’d find in an old bluegrass song, it’s a mountain tale with a modern context, yet similarly confronting the listener with their own mortality.
McNamara: “Just before I moved to Colorado, I hiked with two of my buddies for 75 miles on the Colorado Trail, from Evergreen to Breckenridge. We were hiking really early in the season, so there was still a lot of snow on some sections. Our highest pass that we were going over was Georgia Pass at just over 11,500ft, and we were walking up the valley and there was just this huge storm brewing up on top of it. We had to get over it, though, because we only had so much food. So we walked into this cloud and what turned into a pretty powerful snowstorm and got stranded on the top of the pass, because the snowline had covered up the blazes on the trees marking the trail. I wondered if we were going to die. Seemed like a good thing for a song.”