North Adams, MA -- Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art’s (MASS MoCA) FreshGrass celebrates the freshest talent on the bluegrass stage with 19 finalists participating in the 2015 FreshGrass Award Contest. Finalists in the band, duo, banjo, and fiddle categories perform for a panel led by Grammy Award-winner and master banjoist Alison Brown on Saturday and Sunday of the festival, with winners announced on Sunday afternoon. Open for all festival-goers, the contests showcase the future of bluegrass and roots music when the bands play original and traditional tunes. With cash and prizes totaling $25,000, winners receive a performance spot at next year’s festival, recording sessions at Compass Records, and hand-crafted instruments from Deering and Eastman. FreshGrass hosts three days of music, with almost 50 acts taking the stage in North Adams on September 18-20, 2015.
FreshGrass kicks off on Friday, September 18, with Punch Brothers, Houndmouth, Flatt Lonesome, and 2014 FreshGrass Band Award winner Twisted Pine. Saturday, September 19, features Dwight Yoakam, Leftover Salmon, Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz & Aoife O’Donovan, Alison Brown, Vieux Farka Touré & Julia Easterlin, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Mr. Sun, Ballroom Thieves, Birds of Chicago, FreshGrass Award winners Quiles & Cloud and Cat and the Moon, and bands from Berklee College of Music’s American Roots Music Program. Sunday, September 20, keeps rolling with The Del McCoury Band, Jerry Douglas presents Earls of Leicester, Greensky Bluegrass, Willie Watson, Peter Rowan, Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem, and The Man in Grass – A Tribute to Johnny Cash.
With the Award now in its third year, the festival celebrates the success of past winners who have played the FreshGrass stage. Inaugural band winner Cricket Tell the Weather has toured the Northeast, released its debut album, and is in the process of creating an album of fiddler Andrea Asprelli’s original music. Asprelli and Cricket’s style pulls from many music stylings, something that the FreshGrass Award has always encouraged. “[Our] aesthetic borrows from bluegrass, and it borrows from old-time music and folk and spirituals,’ [Asprelli] says, noting that she’s not aiming for a pristine re-creation of any one style” (The Boston Globe). 2014 Award finalist Molly Tuttle hits the road this fall on an extensive tour and makes time in the studio to record her debut record, looking to expand her bluegrass roots.
The classically trained The Blackberry Bushes Stringband brings a distinctive brand of Americana to FreshGrass all the way from Seattle, Washington. The band’s classical roots shine through, with elements of jazz and pop songwriting, anchored by fiddler Jakob Breitbach’s prestige. Blackberry Bushes maintains an active touring and recording schedule, with a debut record scheduled for release on August 28.
Some of the finest instrumentalists to emerge from Berklee School of Music in the last few years have assembled behind frontman Max Wareham to form Max Wareham & the Morning Bugle. With crystal-clear harmonies and a rough-around-the-edges flair, this quintet will be fresh off its first national tour when it blows through FreshGrass.
Tony Trischka says, “Mile Twelve is carrying the bluegrass tradition forward with creativity and integrity.” Each element of this quartet is absolutely top-shelf, but its most remarkable trait is its unity of sound, drawing equally from jazz, bluegrass, and even old-time swing music. Fans of The Seldom Scene and Johnson Mountain Boys race toward Mile Twelve.
Old Salt Union finds influence in the bluegrass roots of the Del McCoury Band and Sam Bush, while stretching the boundaries of traditional bluegrass music by incorporating in-depth musical arrangements, catchy hooks, and an uncanny pop sensibility. The band won the STL Riverfront Times “Best Bluegrass Band” in 2013 and “Best Country Band” in 2014, all while traveling the country.
Stash Wyslouch is one of bluegrass’ great young genre-bending pioneers. He got his start as a guitarist in metal bands before immersing himself in the sounds and structures of roots music, forming The Deadly Gentlemen (a FreshGrass 2013 alum) to release an acclaimed debut on Rounder Records. Here he appears with his brand new quartet, Stash Wyslouch Stringband, featuring a who’s-who of players from around the Northeast.
Fiddle/banjo player Stephanie Coleman and guitarist Kristin Andreassen developed their sound around campfires in New Hampshire and at bars in Brooklyn – in fact, they’ve hosted the legendary Monday night jams at Lowlands bar for the past five years. Kristin is an award-winning songwriter, percussive dancer, and in-demand square dance caller whose performances are at once “inventive” (The New Yorker) and deeply rooted in tradition. Stephanie is a perennial finalist at the renowned national fiddle contest in Clifftop, West Virginia.
The Littlest Birds hail from California with a fresh take on the old-time duo. With banjo, cello, and a rope of two-part harmony, Sharon Martinson and David Huebner evoke the open plains with equal nods to Bill Monroe and Aaron Copland. They visit FreshGrass on a 25-show Northeast tour.
Rachel Sumner of 2014 Band Award winner Twisted Pine returns to FreshGrass with her new folk/bluegrass duo Sumner & Moss. She sings and plays alongside Sam Moss, "a fingerpicking guitar virtuoso who characterizes the folk spirit in the finest sense" (Paste). The songwriting is pan-roots, pulling inspiration from country along with classic bluegrass.
Husband-wife duo Zoe & Cloyd swap fiddle, banjo, guitar, and mandolin in tightly woven arrangements. Based in Asheville, North Carolina, their songwriting is equally at home in the Smoky Mountains or the Berkshires.
Based in Prairieville, Louisiana, Matt Blaize is a multi-instrumental tour de force. A master of the jazz flute and electric bass (he placed as a finalist at the International Society of Bassists competition in Kalamazoo, Michigan), he appears here with his banjo, with which he boasts an unusually lyrical and expressive style of picking.
Boston-via-New Zealand banjoist Catherine Bowness studied with Tony Trischka and Bill Evans, and worked with David Grisman and Julian Lage. Her rhythm is impeccable, earning her second place in the prestigious RockyGrass competition in 2012. She also appears in the contest with her band, Mile Twelve.
15-year-old Victor Furtado is a genuine banjo prodigy, with a host of national contest appearances since the age of 11. Bluegrass Today says of his debut album, “This is a young man with an absurdly precocious talent and a depth of understanding of old-time music that is at odds with his age.” He visits FreshGrass from Front Royal, Virginia.
The Blackberry Bushes Stringband banjoist Alex Genova takes the spotlight for a solo performance and a chance at the FreshGrass banjo crown. Hailing from Washington state, he is a blazing Scruggs-style picker with a talent and humor that recalls a young Ralph Stanley.
Douglas Jay Goldstein first appeared at FreshGrass with the 2013 Award winner Cricket Tell the Weather, and has since become a festival fixture. He appears here with a set of Eastern-inflected banjo compositions under the name DOUGMORE.
New York-based fiddler Rob Hecht left his stamp on countless records in just ten years on the scene. He appeared on Abigail Washburn’s Tiny Desk Concert, guested with bygone-swing kings Cangelosi Cards, and has worked in-studio with Noam Pikelny. He brings his trademark blend of old-time, jazz, and classical to the Hunter Center stage.
Bronwyn Keith-Hynes is quickly becoming one of the country’s most in-demand fiddle players, appearing onstage recently with Peter Rowan, The Milk Carton Kids, Anais Mitchell, Joe Pug, and Tony Trischka. Last year, she won first prize in the Walnut Valley Fiddle Competition in Winfield, Kansas, arguably the highest honor in the field. She also appears at the festival with her band, Mile Twelve.
Fiddler Carolyn Kendrick began playing violin at the age of four. Now a student at Berklee School of Music and a member of the Berklee World Strings, Kendrick culls her fiddle style from a wide range of genres that include roots music, jazz, and funk.
Avery Merritt has played violin since the age of four and is equally at home in classical, bluegrass, rock, and jazz repertoire. He is currently enrolled in the Berklee College of Music American Roots Music program. This is his first FreshGrass festival.
At the age of 20, Kathleen Parks is already a world-class innovator on the fiddle. The daughter of jazz trumpeter Eric Parks and hailing from a deep-rooted Irish family, she fuses these two threads in her playing style and compositions. You may recognize her from FreshGrass 2014 Band Award winner Twisted Pine.
In addition to the music happening across three stages and two courtyards and throughout galleries, FreshGrass offers a hearty lineup of instrument workshops, luthiers, family programming, downtown camping, late-night dance parties, and legendary jam sessions. Admission to MASS MoCA's galleries — where festival-goers find concerts set amidst dramatically scaled exhibitions of contemporary art such as Jim Shaw’s Entertaining Doubts — is included in the price of festival admission.
FreshGrass, September 18–20, 2015, at MASS MoCA, continues to be one of the best values on the festival circuit. Three-day festival passes are available for $99 for adults, $115 day-of, $89 for students, and $46 for children 7 to 16. Friday passes are $38 in advance, $42 day-of, $28 for students, and $20 for children 7 to 16. Saturday passes are $52 in advance, $56 day-of, $40 for students, and $28 for children 7 to 16. Sunday passes are $46 in advance, $50 day-of, $36 for students, and $24 for children 7 to 16. Available for $300, FreshPass is a deluxe festival experience offering preferred seating at all stages, meet-and-greet opportunities with FreshGrass artists, access to the FreshPass lounge, and locally sourced snacks and beer. Children 6 and under are admitted for free. Museum members receive a 10% discount on the regular ticket prices. Museum admission is included in the price of the festival pass. The festival will be held rain or shine.