Telluride Bluegrass: First Ladies Of Bluegrass, Sunday

The 46th Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival takes place June 2o-June 23. The event is sold out, except for a few single-day tickets on Thursday. But tune in to the live Festival stream at www.koto.org. And learn more about other Planet Bluegrass festivals at www.bluegrass.com.

Please scroll down to listen to a podcast with Allison Brown, founder, The First Ladies of Bluegrass.  (For the record, this Alison was Alison Krauss’s bandleader in the ’90s.) The quintet performs Sunday, 3:30 p.m., on the Main Stage in Telluride Town Park.

True they are gaining a place on the world stage, but to date they travel about without benefit of a motorcade.

Or a security detail in hot pursuit.

Only a growing fan base – following their talent as individual artists and sorority-ied up.

They are the “First Ladies of Bluegrass,” initially a hashtag for a band originally assembled by banjo superstar Alison Brown.

According to an article that appeared in the News Observer in 2018:

“The First Ladies first came together last year to play on a song Raines recorded for a new album due in October. The song, ‘Swept Away,’ was written by Laurie Lewis. Her three-quarters female band, the Good Ol’ Persons, formed in 1975, provided early inspiration to girls who dreamed of a career in music.

“Brown, who produced Raines’ album for her label, Compass Records, wanted to put together an all-female band in the studio for the occasion.

“She called up people she knew, only realizing later that four of the five who signed up were the first female winners in their instrumental categories: Brown (in 1991); Raines (seven times from 1998 to the present); Buller (2016); and Hull for mandolin (2016 and 2017).

“The fifth was Tuttle, and when she won the guitar award in 2017, the First Ladies had been inaugurated.

“So it was all a happy accident, kind of. But in some ways, Brown said, maybe it wasn’t.

“‘The whole #MeToo movement and heightened awareness to those kinds of issues and this happening, they’re not consciously connected, but somehow in the greater sphere of things I think that there’s a connection,” she said. ‘I think that it’s always been an important statement to make, but it’s maybe more important than ever right now.’

“Pretty much any vision of bluegrass’s future includes an increasing number of girls and women, as a look around the stages and sidewalk jams at World of Bluegrass is starting to reflect. And Tuttle said she’ll be glad for the company.

“I’d definitely like to see more women doing it,’ Tuttle said in an interview. ’I don’t usually feel shut out of situations, but sometimes being the only woman in a band or in a jam, it can just have a different feeling than if there are equals amounts of women and men in a playing situation.’”

The supergroup – once again, Alison Brown (banjo); Becky Buller (fiddle); Sierra Hull (mandolin); Missy Raines (bass);  and (Molly Tuttle (guitar) – made its debut, along with special guests Phoebe Hunt and Sally Van Meter, in the summer of 2018 at Planet Bluegrass’s 46th annual Rocky Grass Festival in Lyons, Colorado. The ladies then went on to perform during Wide Open Bluegrass in Raleigh, North Carolina, following the IBMA World of Bluegrass convention in late September of that year.

Again and to further clarify, the First Ladies of Bluegrass were so-named because each member was the “First Lady” to win an International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) award in their instrument category.

In life (in a #MeToo world) and on their instruments, the band appears to have had perfect timing: the all-female powerhouse quickly became a sought-after quintet in the twin universes of country and bluegrass.

Allison Brown, more:

According to online sources, Harvard MBA Alison Brown doesn’t play the banjo.

She plays music on the banjo.

In the instrumental food chain, the five-string banjo is one of the more dominant beasts: loud, brash and very hard to tame. In 1945, Earl Scruggs made the biggest leap in harnessing its raw power, bringing a revolutionary precision of touch and depth of tone.

Thousands of three-finger style banjo players have since made their marks, but none has cut such a path or moved so far along it as has Alison Brown. She’s acclaimed as one of today’s finest progressive banjo players, but you rarely find her in a conventional bluegrass setting. Instead, she’s known for leading an ensemble that successfully marries a broad array of roots-influenced music: folk, jazz, Celtic and Latin.

With her new Compass Records project, The Song of the Banjo, the 2015 IBMA Distinguished Achievement Award and 2001 Grammy Award-winning musician/composer/producer/entrepreneur plants another flag in her ongoing journey of sonic exploration.

Missy Raines, more:

From her tenure playing with The Claire Lynch Band, Eddie Adcock, Josh Graves, Jim Hurst, Kenny Baker, and Jesse McReynolds to her seven International Bluegrass Music Association “Bass Player of the Year” awards, Missy Raines has proven herself to be an iconic bluegrass instrumentalist. But with her newest release, Royal Traveller, Raines has stepped into the spotlight as a songwriter for the first time.

The album digs deep into Raines’ family life and her upbringing in West Virginia. Featuring previous and current members of her live band, as well as cameos from other bluegrass greats such as Stuart Duncan and Tim O’Brien, the album is a window into the perspective, history, and musical influences of one of Nashville’s most beloved musicians.

Royal Traveller is Raines’ third album for Compass Records. It was the first produced by Compass’ owner and founder, renowned banjo player Alison Brown.

“I went into this project with Alison with the mindset that I wanted to stretch myself and see what I could do. I think we achieved what I was looking for, which is something further reaching and bigger than what I would have accomplished on my own,” said Raines.

In 1998, Raines became the first woman to win IBMA’s Bass Player of the Year award. She went on to win the title repeatedly for the next several years. Royal Traveller highlights this particular piece of Raines’ history with the stand-out track “Swept Away” featuring the five first women to win IBMA instrumentalist awards, Raines’ First Ladies cohort including Brown, Sierra Hull, Becky Buller, and Molly Tuttle. “Swept Away” was named 2018 IBMA Recorded Event of the Year.

Becky Buller, more:

Becky Buller is two-time Grammy award-winning songwriter and an eight-time International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) award winner who made bluegrass music history in 2016 by becoming the first artist ever to win in both instrumental and vocal categories, as well as the first female to win “Fiddle Player Of The Year.”

Recorded by some of the industry’s best, her songs, preceded the fiery-haired fiddler’s own prominence as an artist in the acoustic music world., Buller co-wrote “Freedom,” the lead-off track of The Infamous Stringduster’s 2018 Grammy award-winning album, Laws Of Gravity, as well as “The Shaker,” featured on The Travelin’ McCoury’s self-titled release that just brought home the 2019 Best Bluegrass Album Grammy.

Molly Tuttle, more:

A virtuosic, award-winning guitarist with a gift for insightful songwriting, Molly Tuttle evolves her signature sound with boundary-breaking songs on her compelling debut album, When You’re Ready.

Already crowned “Instrumentalist of the Year” at the 2018 Americana Music Awards on the strength of her EP, Tuttle has broken boundaries and garnered the respect of her peers, winning fans for her incredible flat-picking guitar technique and confessional songwriting.

Blessed with a clear, true voice and a keen melodic sense, the 26-year-old seems poised for a long and exciting career. When You’re Ready, produced by Ryan Hewitt (The Avett Brothers, The Lumineers) showcases her astonishing range and versatility and shows that she is more than simply an Americana artist.

Since moving to Nashville in 2015, the native Californian has been welcomed into folk music, bluegrass, Americana, and traditional country communities – even as When You’re Ready stretches the boundaries of those genres. Over the past year, Molly has continued to accumulate accolades, winning Folk Alliance International’s honor for Song of the Year for “You Didn’t Call My Name” and taking home her second trophy for the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year (the first woman in the history of the IBMA to win that honor).

Sierra Hull, more:

Musical artist Sierra Hull arrives for the 59th annual Grammy Awards held at Staples Center in Los Angeles on February 12, 2017. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI (Newscom TagID: upiphotostwo510287.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]

Sierra Hull’s positively stellar career started early, that is if you consider a Grand Ole Opry debut at age 10, called back to the famed stage a year later to perform with her hero and mentor Alison Krauss to be early.

She played Carnegie Hall at 12; at 13 signed with Rounder Records and issued her debut, Secrets, and garnered the first of many nominations for “Mandolin Player of the Year.”

Hull played the Kennedy Center at 16 and the next year became the first bluegrass musician to receive a Presidential Scholarship at the Berklee College of Music.

As a 20-year-old, Hull played the White House.

It’s only a two-hour drive to Nashville from her tiny hometown hamlet of Byrdstown, Tennessee. Hull credits her family for paving the first few miles to Music Row. Her mother, holding her as a toddler, taught her to sing. She ran next door to hear Uncle Junior pick mandolin, and listened intently to the church choir on Sundays. Her Christmas gift –  a full-sized fiddle – proved too daunting. While waiting for a smaller replacement, her father showed her some notes on the mandolin. Hull was hooked, soon known as the eight-year-old wowing the locals at bluegrass jams.

Hull found inspiration in Krauss, Ricky Skaggs, and Sam Bush. And, just as importantly, affirmed her own sense of identity in the album covers of Rhonda Vincent, the queen of bluegrass.  She heard the words of her parents, prepping her for life’s big moments yet to come, repeatedly instilling the mantra: “Hard work, more than anything, will get you somewhere.”

It certainly did.

And the beat goes on.

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