A powerfully gifted musician and a scholar of Black American music, Jake Blount speaks ardently about the African roots of the banjo and the subtle, yet profound ways African Americans have shaped and defined the amorphous categories of roots music and Americana. His 2020 album Spider Tales (named one of the year’s best albums by NPR and The New Yorker, earned a perfect 5-star review from The Guardian) highlighted the Black and Indigenous histories of popular American folk tunes, as well as revived songs unjustly forgotten in the whitewashing of the canon.
Jake Blount’s new album, The New Faith, is a towering achievement of dystopian Afrofuturism and his first album for Smithsonian Folkways (coming September 23, 2022). The New Faith is spiritual music, filled with hope for salvation and righteous anger in equal measure. The album manifests our worst fears on the shores of an island in Maine, where Blount enacts an imagined religious ceremony performed by Black refugees after the collapse of global civilization due to catastrophic climate change. Jake Blount’s music is rooted in care and confrontation. On stage, each song he and his band play is chosen for a reason - because it highlights important elements about the stories we tell ourselves of our shared history and our endlessly complicated present moment. The more we learn about where we’ve been, the better equipped we are to face the future.
Weaving together modern and traditional styles of bluegrass and Americana, Never Come Down is a Portland, Oregon based 5-piece band composed of Joe Suskind (guitar), Crystal Lariza (vocals), Brian Alley (banjo), Kaden Hurst (mandolin), and Ben Ticknor (bass). Their dedication to thoughtful songwriting and dynamic arrangements highlights polished technical skills and a commitment to listening to each other. Formed in 2018, the band released their self-titled debut that year and their second album Better Late Than Never followed in 2021. They’ve toured internationally and have found acclaim at festivals and venues such as Iceland Airwaves, John Hartford Memorial Fest, Americanafest, FreshGrass, RockyGrass, and Wintergrass.
AJ Lee and Blue Summit made their first appearance in Santa Cruz in 2015. Led by singer, songwriter, and mandolinist, AJ Lee, the bluegrass band has performed all over the world, but finds home in California’s Bay Area. In 2019, they released their debut album, Like I Used To. Their second full length project, I’ll Come Back, came out August 2021, with national touring in support of the record ongoing.
Unlike their first record, which featured experimentation with session musicians and electric instruments, the new project is a pure reflection of the live sound of the group, hearkening back to their acoustic roots. Each band member performs at their peak, and the variety of songs on the record caters to their broad fanbase. Certain tracks (“Put Your Head Down,” and “Faithful,”) fall more in the classic bluegrass realm of songwriting, while others (“Lemons and Tangerines,” and “I’ll Come Back,”) fall into that hard-to-define realm of acoustic Americana that blends mesmerizing lyricism and acoustic mastery.
Although falling loosely under the bluegrass label, AJLBS generally plays sans banjo, with Sullivan Tuttle and Scott Gates on steel stringed acoustic guitars, AJ on mandolin, Jan Purat on fiddle, and Chad Bowen on upright bass - a configuration effectively used to create unique space and texture in the arrangements not as commonly found in the music of their peers. Drawing from influences such as country, soul, swing, rock, and jam music, the band uses the lens of bluegrass as a vessel through which to express and explore the thread that binds and unifies all great music.
Awards & Honors include: NCBS Best Female Vocalist (2020, Nine-Time Winner); NCBS Best Bluegrass Band (2020); NCBS Best Mandolin Player (2020); NCBS Best Guitar Player (2020); Freshgrass Band Contest Winner (2019); IBMA Momentum Vocalist of the Year (2019); Winfield National Flatpicking Contest, 2nd Place (2019)