2018 Instructors

We're excited to announce the 2018 RockyGrass Academy faculty.

Guitar | Mandolin | Banjo | Fiddle | Dobro | Bass | Songwriting | Vocal | Artist-At-Large |
Bands-in-Residence | Kids Camp | Instrument Building

The registration lottery for the 2018 Academy will be open from November 6-15. All spaces for the Academyt typically sell-out via this lottery, so be sure to get your entry in!


Guitar Instructors
Nick Forster
Born in Beirut in 1955 (his father worked for the State Department), Nick was raised in upstate New York. He started playing drums at age ten, but abandoned them in favor of his first guitar a year later. As a teen, he played in folk and folk-rock bands. His desire to pursue music as a career in the mid-seventies led him to Colorado, where he met up with the three young men who would join him in forming the contemporary bluegrass band Hot Rize in 1978. For the band, Nick supplied bass, vocals and guitar and was also well known for his exceptional ease and grace as the M.C. and host. [more...] He won recognition as a writer as well, earning praise from Rolling Stone Magazine as "an exceptional songwriter."

Hot Rize established an acclaimed international reputation, releasing ten albums and touring worldwide fulltime for over 12 years. The band appeared on countless radio and television programs, including Austin City Limits, The Grand Old Opry and Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion. Hot Rize earned both a Grammy nomination and the International Bluegrass Music Association's Entertainer of the Year Award in 1991. Ironically, in the face of this success, the band members collectively decided to pursue individual projects later that year and went into semi-retirement. While on a highly successful State tour in eastern Europe during this time, Nick conceived the idea of a new concept in radio, eTown, the popular weekly radio variety show now heard coast-to-coast.

As eTown's host, Nick leads a radio program that entices the audience with live performances from today's top musicians, then engages listeners with conversation and information about our communities and our environment. His warm on-air wit, stellar guitar playing and strong vocals are hallmarks of the show.

In addition to eTown, Nick remains an active player in the music world, performing at major festivals and playing recording sessions for various artists like Big Head Todd and the Monsters and Kathy Mattea. He also is an accomplished record producer whose most recent project was nominated for a Grammy. [less...]
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Grant Gordy
For several years Brooklyn-based guitarist Grant Gordy has been a major voice on the American "acoustic music" scene, and one of the most highly regarded young instrumentalists of his generation. Having held the guitar chair in the legendary David Grisman Quintet for six years, he's also worked alongside such musical luminaries as Edgar Meyer, Steve Martin, Tony Trischka and Darol Anger. Grant has performed all over North America and Europe, everywhere from Carnegie Hall to Montreal Jazz Festival; Jazz at Lincoln Center to Bonnaroo. [more...]

His music has been heard on NPR's Morning EditionAll Things Considered and Tiny Desk Concerts, and he's received attention from international music periodicals such as The Fretboard Journal, Acoustic Guitar Magazine, Japanese bluegrass publication MoonshinerJust Jazz Guitar and Flatpicking Guitar Magazine.

In addition to freelancing as a soloist and collaborator in New York City-as an acoustic guitarist, and on electric in the city's thriving jazz scene- Grant's current bands include: Mr. Sun, an acoustic supergroup of sorts with Darol Anger (violin), Joe K. Walsh (mandolin) and Aidan O'Donnell (bass); a duo with guitarist Ross Martin; their debut Year of the Dog was released late 2016; his own band featuring prodigious acoustic talents Alex Hargreaves (violin) and Dominick Leslie (mandolin). [less...]
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Bryan Sutton
Bryan Sutton is the most accomplished and awarded acoustic guitarist of his generation, an innovator who bridges the bluegrass flatpicking traditions of the 20th century with the dynamic roots music scene of the 21st. His rise from buzzed-about young sideman to first-call Nashville session musician to membership in one of history's greatest bluegrass bands has been grounded in quiet professionalism and ever-expanding musicianship. Sutton is a Grammy Award winner and a nine-time International Bluegrass Music Association Guitar Player of the Year. But these are only the most visible signs of Sutton's accomplishments. [more...] He inherited and internalized a technically demanding instrumental style and become for young musicians of today the same kind of model and hero that Tony Rice and Clarence White were for him. And supplementing his instrumental work, he's now a band leader, record producer, mentor, educator and leader in online music instruction. [less...] Top
Molly Tuttle
A virtuoso multi-instrumentalist and award winning songwriter with a distinctive voice, Molly has turned the heads of even the most seasoned industry professionals. She began performing on stage when she was 11, and recorded her first album, The Old Apple Tree, at age 13. Since then, she's appeared on A Prairie Home Companion and at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, was featured on the cover of Flatpicking Guitar Magazine, won first place in the prestigious Chris Austin Songwriting Competition at Merlefest, received a 2016 Momentum Award from the IBMA in the instrumentalist category, and became the first woman to win the IBMA's Guitar Player of the Year in 2017. [more...] Molly's lovely voice, impeccable guitar playing, and sensitive song writing make her a star on the rise. She has already received several million YouTube views, released her debut EP Rise to wide acclaim, and is currently gearing up to release her full-length debut on Compass Records in 2018. [less...] Top

Mandolin Instructors
Sierra Hull
This is where a preternatural talent becomes a natural woman. This is Sierra Hull's Weighted Mind. It is nothing like what we thought it would be. It is nothing like what we've heard before, from anyone. It is singular and emphatic, harmonious and dissonant. It is the realization of promise, and the affirmation of individuality. It is born of difficulty and indecision, yet it rings with ease, decisiveness, and beauty. "She plays the mandolin with a degree of refined elegance and freedom that few have achieved," says Bela Fleck, the genre-leaping banjo master who produced Weighted Mind. "And now her vocals and songwriting have matured to the level of her virtuosity." [more...]

Alison Krauss, who has won more Grammy awards than any female artist in history, says of Hull, "I think she's endless. I don't see any boundaries. Talent like hers is so rare, and I don't think it stops. It's round."

Hull came to us as a bluegrass thrush, a teen prodigy. Krauss called her to the Grand Ole Opry stage when Hull was 11-years-old. Two years later, she signed with Rounder Records, and soon became known as a remarkable mandolin player, a tone-true vocalist, and a recording artist of high order. She made two acclaimed albums. She played the White House, and Carnegie Hall, and the Kennedy Center, and she became the first bluegrass musician to receive a Presidential Scholarship at the Berklee College of Music.

She was celebrated, yet adrift. Stranded, even. She fielded myriad opinions about hypothetical courses. She grew vulnerable, and weighted, and she wrote songs about all of that. She found solace in an antique Brenda Ueland book that advised, "Everybody is original, if he tells the truth, if he speaks from himself." And she talked with Krauss, the childhood hero who had become an adult confidante.

"Sierra did well in music very fast and very young," says Krauss. "Sometimes when that happens, people don't want you to change. It's, 'We know you as this, and now you're scaring us.' But there wasn't a question about what she wanted. She just needed somebody to listen to her and say, 'What you have to say is valuable. If this is what you feel and what you want to say, you wait until you get to say it.'" Krauss also suggested she talk with Fleck.

"Sierra lives in the border area where new ideas mix to create hybrids, and sometimes brand new directions," he says. "Her own voice was quietly telling her something that was hard to hear over all the advice she was getting." Fleck asked her to play him her new songs, without accompaniment: Just voice and mandolin.

"Even when I was fronting a band, I'd always been an ensemble player," Hull says. "To do something by myself made me rethink everything."

And so she rethought, and she found new ways to play the new songs she'd written. In short time, what had been arduous now seemed genuine and innate. C.S. Lewis' quote about how "the longest way round is the shortest way home" made sense. And a dazzling and atypical album was made possible.

Hull's songs did not remain bare of all but mandolin and voice, though those are the essential elements here. Bass marvel Ethan Jodziewicz came on, providing resonance and rhythmic complexity. Fleck's banjo adorns the courtly "Queen of Hearts/Royal Tea." And Krauss, Abigail Washburn and Rhiannon Giddens add enchanting harmonies.

Bluegrass roots inform and inspire this soundscape, but bluegrass does not define or limit Weighted Mind. This is not bluegrass music, or chamber music, or pop music. This is original music, from a virtuoso who tells the truth and speaks from herself.

"If you won't go where I'm going, then I'll have to go alone," she sings. "Choices and changes/ I'm tired of trying to be someone else." Then she unleashes an octave mandolin solo—first fluttering, then tense and troubled—that could come from no one else.

Hull wrote eleven of Weighted Mind's twelve songs (and she arranged the twelfth tune), penning some with co-writers Jon Weisberger, Zac Bevill, and Josh Shilling, and writing "Stranded," "Wings of the Dawn," "Birthday," "Lullaby," "I'll Be Fine," and "Black River" on her own.

"The moment you start to be yourself, there's an honesty about that, that people connect with," she says. "This album feels like the story of my early twenties, of that searching. Now, it feels like everything worked out the way it was supposed to."

"I'd like to say to you, 'Come follow,'" Hull sings on "Compass." "But you may find my heart's been hollowed out."

Now, she knows. If her heart was hollowed, it was only so it might be filled anew, and then revealed. Welcome to a Weighted Mind, at ease. [less...]
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John Reischman
John Reischman is one of the premier mandolinists of his generation. He’s a master instrumentalist capable of swinging between re-inventions of traditional old-time tunes, deconstructions from the bluegrass repertoire, and compelling original tunes, many of which have become standards. He’s also a powerful bandleader, touring his band the Jaybirds all over Canada and the United States. But most of all, he’s an understated visionary, the kind of master craftsman whose music is virtuosic without ever being flashy and who is renowned for his impeccable taste and tone as an artist. [more...] John Reischman embodies the true spirit of acoustic music in the 21st century.

A Juno–nominated and Grammy–award winning artist, John Reischman is known today for his work with his band the Jaybirds and his acclaimed solo albums, but he got his start as an original member of the Tony Rice Unit in the late 1970s. With the Tony Rice Unit, Reischman helped define the “new acoustic music” movement in bluegrass thanks to their high profile albums on Rounder Records. Building this sound, Reischman was of course influenced early on by Monroe’s mandolin playing, but also by the playing of early bluegrass mandolinists like Sam Bush, David Grisman, and jazz mandolinist Jethro Burns. Living in the Bay Area in the 80s, Reischman toured and performed with seminal bluegrass band The Good Ol’ Persons, cementing his reputation as a powerful mandolinist with an original vision for the instrument. He moved to Vancouver, British Columbia in the 1990s and formed The Jaybirds, but Reischman never stopped his musical explorations. In 1996, he won a Grammy as part of Todd Phillips’ all-star tribute album to Bill Monroe. Over the years, he’s overseen collaborations with a remarkably wide range of artists, like bluegrass singer Kathy Kallick, to guitarist Scott Nygaard, banjo wiz Tony Furtado, Chinese Music ensemble Red Chamber, Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Celso Machado, singer songwriter Susan Crowe, and more.

This kind of cross-cultural trailblazing has always been at the center of John Reischman’s music. It’s not a kind of musical fusion, but rather an extension of his curiosity to the stringed instruments and musical rhythms of other traditions. Long inspired by Latin American roots music, from Puerto Rican cuatro to Brazilian choro music, John’s been exploring this music, and forging new compositions from these inspirations, in his duo with Seattle guitarist master acoustic guitarist John Miller. The two have recorded three acclaimed albums together. Bringing together two forces in instrumental acoustic music, John Reischman and John Miller were both able to channel their music together into a truly intimate and supportive ensemble.

Though some people, including Tony Rice, questioned John’s move away from the hotbed of California bluegrass that had formed his career, John’s relocation to Vancouver, British Columbia in the 1990s ultimately led to his next big step as an artist: becoming a bandleader. Drawing from the very best bluegrass and acoustic musicians in the Pacific Northwest to form the band, Reischman led The Jaybirds on cross-country tours, five albums, and two Juno nominations. With their latest album released in 2011, John Reischman & the Jaybirds are still going strong as one of the top bluegrass ensembles. The secret to their success lies in the innovative arrangements and powerful original song writing and tune composition, but also in the mix of talents that make up the group. Fiddler Greg Spatz has a crystal-clear tone and an ability to play with blazing speed and soft subtlety. Bassist and vocalist Trisha Gagnon writes and sings beautiful original songs. Banjo player Nick Hornbuckle has a solid, original style of picking that forms the bedrock of the music, and guitarist Jim Nunally is renowned as one of the top acoustic roots guitarists and is also an in-demand record producer. Reischman ties these different talents together into an impossibly tight band that can turn on a dime and play with the kind of power and precision that is the hallmark of the original bluegrass greats.

In 2013, John Reischman released his third solo album, Walk Along John. Made up of traditional and original tunes, the album’s a celebration of Reischman’s long career, featuring guest spots from old friends like old-time fiddler Bruce Molsky, banjo genius Tony Trischka, The Punch Brothers’ Chris Thile, bluegrass guitarist Kenny Smith, and members of the Jaybirds, plus new friends from a new generation of bluegrass instrumentalists: guitarist Eli West, members of The Deadly Gentlemen, among others. Walk Along Johnfollows in the footsteps of Reischman’s other acclaimed solo albums, like his debut, North of the Border, which was recorded for Rounder Records and was reviewed by Bluegrass Unlimited as “monumental … it establishes a remarkably high standard for mature, tasteful mandolin music”. But Walk Along John plumbs a deeper level of talent for Reischman, the result of the past decades of hard work and constant study. After 40 years of picking at the forefront of the American bluegrass tradition, it should come as no surprise that John Reischman still has a lot to say. [less...]
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One more mandolin instructor to be announced soon.

Banjo Instructors
Alison Brown
Alison Brown doesn't play the banjo. Alison Brown plays music on the banjo. Thousands of three-finger style banjo players have made their marks since Earl Scruggs, 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 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. [more...]

As one might expect from a Harvard-educated MBA and co-founder of Compass Records, for 20 years old one of the most respected bluegrass, folk, Celtic and Americana labels, the title of Alison's first album since 2009 was carefully considered. It comes from a poem by Rudyard Kipling, but she says the reason she chose it was that, "It points to the lyrical side of the banjo, which is the side I'm drawn to."

Although banjos typically play "tunes" or "breakdowns," in Alison Brown's hands, the banjo truly sings. Part of that is the result of the modifications she's made to her signature model Prucha 5-string, muting the usual harsher overtones and extraneous noises, emphasizing the sweetness and melodicism. But mostly, it's her unique musical vision. Brown never wastes a note, never launching into banjo tsunamis just because she can; stopping her precision three-finger roll to leave space for a lyric or other instrumental voice when appropriate. Don't mistake it, there is plenty of jaw-dropping virtuosity on The Song of the Banjo, but it's always in service to the melody at hand. The great tenor saxophonist Lester Young had to know the lyrics before he played a song, even as an instrumental. Like him, Brown always plays the words as well as the melody.

She and Compass co-founder, husband and bassist Garry West have assembled an all-star cast, including some of Nashville's most adventurous session players, as well as special guests Indigo Girls, Keb' Mo', label mate Colin Hay, ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, legendary drummer Steve Gadd, fiddler Stuart Duncan, Dobro player Rob Ickes, upright bassist Todd Philips and, on guitar and bouzouki, Irish phenom John Doyle.

Duncan and Brown came up together in the Southern California bluegrass scene, and Ickes was close behind them in the Northern part of the State, but (even though she can "lay the thumb to the five" with the best of them), Brown's inner bluegrass girl wasn't invited to this party.  Of the 12 tracks on The Song of the Banjo, seven are Brown originals, including the melodic, pop-flavored title piece that opens the set, as well the gravity-defying piano/banjo duet, "Musette for the Last Fret." Then there are her trademark compositions written in Cinemascope - grandly sweeping melodies like "A Long Way Gone" and the Celtic-tinged "Airish." "The Moon in Molly's Eyes" brings in bossa nova, with lush strings by Compass label mate Andrea Zonn. "Stuff Happens," written by Brown and West, turned into an accidental tribute to Gadd's old band of studio aces, Stuff, which set the bar for '70s pop-funk-blues fusion.  "I imagined the tune to be a cross between "White Freightliner" and "Freedom Jazz Dance", but when Steve kicked off the groove on our first run-through I couldn't help but think about Cornell Dupree – always one of my favorite guitarists – and be reminded of Stuff."  Paul Simon drummer/guitarist Jim Oblon brings some NYC blues-inspired guitar to the celebration.

Brown's choices for cover songs are even more surprising, from her bouncy take on Orleans' soft-rocker "Dance with Me" (featuring great interplay with Ickes) to Cyndi Lauper's hauntingly beautiful "Time After Time" to 1980's instrumental chart-topper "Chuck Mangione's "Feels So Good," featuring Shimabukuro's tenor uke and the drumming of Gadd, a boyhood friend of Mangione. In Brown's masterful hands, all three sound as if they were written for the banjo. "Time After Time" is particularly stunning. "It's just lays so beautifully on the banjo," she says, "and I figure if it was good enough for Miles Davis it's good enough for me."

Brown's unique cover versions work two very different kinds of magic, revitalizing these rock and pop classics while stripping away stereotypes of what a banjo can or can't do. "Familiar music allows folks to understand an instrument that they may not be overly familiar with.  The banjo is a complex instrument, with melodic ideas normally surrounded by rapid fire arpeggiated chords, but when you play a familiar tune it allows the audience to more clearly hear the voice of the instrument, and to understand how the playing style is integrated into, and around, the melody."

One of the album's covers actually had a banjo on the original. Michael Martin Murphey's "Carolina in the Pines" became a bluegrass standard in the '70s, but in Brown's arrangement, the banjo riff goes to pianist Will Barrow, while her banjo evokes the cascading piano part. Another twist is that what had been a man's song is beautifully sung by Indigo Girls' Amy Ray and Emily Saliers.

Producers Brown and West keep those surprises coming, as Colin Hay wryly sings Dionne Warwick's 1970 Bacharach/David hit, "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" accompanied by Brown's custom-built wood-bodied banjola.  "Colin was in Nashville, having dinner at our house in fact, when somehow we got on the topic of Burt Bacharach.  When we found out how much he loves Bacharach's music – easily as much as we do – we asked him if he'd be interested in doing a song together.  We went into the studio the next morning and had the track knocked out by lunchtime." 

Keb' Mo's Americana-soul version of Marvin Gaye's seminal "What's Going On" is another unexpected pleasure. The bonus track, recorded after the album was finished and rush-released as a free-standing single to radio, will be available on the album's Deluxe Edition. Along with Keb's warm vocals, the song features instrumental sparks between Duncan and Brown, as well as an explosive piano solo by Joe Davidian. But it's Brown's understated backup and exploratory solo on low banjo that quietly steals the show.

Brown is comfortable not constantly being the lead voice, not always being the star, preferring true ensembles. "When I arrange a song or write a piece of music, I really enjoy interweaving the different musical voices. That way you get more of a tapestry rather than a bunch of people backing up one sound."

For those who came of age in the '70s and '80s, Brown's re-invention of these familiar songs makes them sound brand new. For younger listeners hearing them for the first time, her versions may well set the new standard.

That's all part of the alternative banjo universe that Alison Brown occupies so beautifully on The Song of the Banjo, reaching into the past as she looks to the future, creating an album for people who didn't know how much they liked the banjo, while giving banjo fans new reasons to love the instrument.

"It's amazing to me how much the banjo changed in the 20th Century," Brown says. "And here we are in the dawn of the 21st; who knows where it may go?" For one answer to that question, look no further than The Song of the Banjo. [less...]
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Tony Trischka
Tony Trischka (United States Artists Friends Fellow-2012) is considered to be the consummate banjo artist and perhaps the most influential banjo player in the roots music world. For more than 45 years, his stylings have inspired a whole generation of bluegrass and acoustic musicians with the many voices he has brought to the instrument. A native of Syracuse, New York, Trischka's interest in banjo was sparked by the Kingston Trio's "Charlie and the MTA" in 1963. Two years later, he joined the Down City Ramblers, where he remained through 1971. [more...] That year, Trischka made his recording debut on 15 Bluegrass Instrumentals with the band Country Cooking; at the same time, he was also a member of America’s premier sports-rock band Country Granola. In 1973, he began a three-year stint with Breakfast Special. Between 1974 and 1975, he recorded two solo albums, Bluegrass Light and Heartlands. After one more solo album in 1976, Banjoland, he went on to become musical leader for the Broadway show The Robber Bridegroom. Trischka toured with the show in 1978, the year he also played with the Monroe Doctrine.

In 1978, he toured Japan and recorded with Peter Rowan and Richard Greene. In the early 1980s, he began recording with his new group Skyline, which released its first album in 1983. Subsequent albums included Robot Plane Flies over Arkansas (solo, 1983), Stranded in the Moonlight (with Skyline, 1984) and Hill Country (solo, 1985). In 1984, he performed in his first feature film, Foxfire with Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy and John Denver. Three years later, he worked on the pre-recorded music for the off-Broadway production of Driving Miss Daisy that featured Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman. Trischka produced the Belgian group Gold Rush's No More Angels in 1988. The following year, Skyline recorded its final album, Fire of Grace. He also recorded the theme song for Books on the Air, a popular National Public Radio Show, and continued his affiliation with the network by appearing on Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion, Mountain Stage, From Our Front Porch, and other radio shows. Trischka continued his recording career with 1993's World Turning, 1995's Glory Shone Around: A Christmas Collection and 1999's Bend. New Deal followed in 2003.

Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular, featuring appearances by Steve Martin, Earl Scruggs, Bela Fleck, Tony Rice and many other luminaries, came out four years later. For this recording he went back to Bluegrass and reinvigorated the double banjo tradition. In October 2007, Tony was given an IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) award for Banjo Player of the Year 2007. Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular received IBMA awards for Recorded Event of the Year, Instrumental Album of the Year and a Grammy Nomination.

With his fearless musical curiosity as the guiding force, Tony Trischka's critically acclaimed release, Territory roams widely through the banjo's creative terrain. Nine selections partner Tony with fellow banjoists Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger, Bill Evans, Bill Keith and Bruce Molsky. Twelve all-Trischka solo tracks explore a panorama of tunings, banjo sounds, and traditions; tapping the creative potential of America's signature musical instrument.

Tony is not only considered amongst the most innovative of banjo players, he is one of its most respected and sought after instructors creating fifteen instructional books as well as a series of DVDs. In 2009, he launched the groundbreaking Tony Trischka School of Banjo, an advanced, interactive, online instructional site that is the banjo home for students from around the world.

2011 saw “Give Me the Banjo” aired on PBS stations nationwide with Tony as the Musical Director and Co-Producer of the documentary. It was subsequently released on DVD. He produced Steve Martin’s Grammy nominated Rare Bird Alert (Rounder), which features performances by Paul McCartney, the Dixie Chicks and the Steep Canyon Rangers.

In the summer of 2012, Tony continued to broaden the reach and influence of the banjo as performer and Band Leader for the Shakespeare in the Park, NYC performances of “As You Like It”, placing the banjo in even newer ground.

In December of 2012, Tony was awarded the United States Artists Friends Fellow in recognition of the excellence of his work.

On Tony’s latest album Great Big World (Rounder Records - released February, 2014) his instrumental expertise and boundless imagination are as sharp as ever. One of the most ambitious and accomplished of his career, the album is a deeply compelling showcase for his expansive instrumental talents, far-ranging musical interests and distinctive songwriting skills, as well as his sterling taste in collaborators. With contributions from his band Territory, Steve Martin, Michael Daves, Noam Pikelny, Ramblin’ Jack Eliot and many other special guests the 13-track set finds Trischka embracing all manner of possibilities, while keeping one foot firmly planted in the traditional bluegrass roots that first inspired him to make music.

Tony continues to maintain a national and international touring schedule with his band of extraordinary musicians. [less...]
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Pete Wernick
Pete Wernick, "Dr. Banjo", is renowned worldwide for his contributions to bluegrass music: the hot-picking force in several trend-setting bands including Hot Rize, respected author and teacher, songwriter, and long-term President of the International Bluegrass Music Association. Pete's first recordings were made in 1971 with northeast instrumental wizards Country Cooking. Founding Hot Rize in 1978 led to an enduring stint as a performing artist, appearing throughout the U.S. and three other continents, on national television and radio. [more...] His instructional videos and books include best-sellers in their respective fields, Bluegrass Banjo, Masters of the Five String Banjo, How to Make a Band Work, and many others. A pioneer in bluegrass music instruction, since 1980 Pete's camps and clinics have inspired players nationwide and overseas.

Pete has been based in Niwot, Colorado since 1976, and tours and records with the traditional bluegrass band Long Road Home, with his wife Joan in a duet and in his bluegrass/traditional jazz combo Pete Wernick & FLEXIGRASS. The year 2016 marks his 46th since his first recordings, and will also see Hot Rize performing at several festivals and touring in Fall. [less...]
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Fiddle Instructors
Darol Anger
Fiddler, composer, producer and educator,  Darol Anger is at home in a number of musical genres, some of which he helped to invent. Exceptional among modern fiddlers for his versatility and depth, Anger has helped drive the evolution of the contemporary string band through his involvement with numerous pathbreaking ensembles such as his Republic Of Strings, the Turtle Island String Quartet, the David Grisman Quintet, Montreux, his Duo with Mike Marshall, and others. He has performed and taught all over the world with musicians such as Dr. Billy Taylor, Bela Fleck, Bill Evans, Edgar Meyer, Bill Frisell, David Grisman, Tony Rice, Tim O’Brien, the Detroit Symphony, and Stephane Grappelli. [more...] Today Darol can be heard on NPR’s “Car Talk” theme every week, along with Earl Scruggs, David Grisman and Tony Rice. He was also the violinist on the phenomenally popular Sim City computer games.

In addition to performing all over the world, he has recorded and produced scores of important recordings since 1977, is a MacDowell and UCross Fellow, and has received numerous composers’ residencies and grants. He has been a featured soloist on dozens of recordings and motion picture soundtracks.

He is an Associate Professor at the Berklee School of music. He recently began an ambitious online Fiddle School at ArtistWorks.com. [less...]
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Becky Buller
In 2016, Becky Buller made bluegrass music history by becoming the first person ever to win in both instrumental and vocal categories at the International Bluegrass Music Association(IBMA) awards. That's right, folks. EVER! As is usually the case, Becky's is an overnight success story almost 20 years in the making. Her songs, on the lips of the industry's best, preceded this fiery-haired fiddling St. James, Minn., native to prominence in the acoustic music world. Now audiences are connecting the composer with her compositions…to the tune of five IBMA awards in the last two years, including the 2016 Fiddler and Female Vocalist and 2015 Songwriter Of The Year nods. [more...]

Since 2015, the Becky Buller Band has toured extensively throughout the United States and Canada. The group has an exciting 2017 planned, beginning with the release of Becky's fourth solo album on the Dark Shadow Recording label. Becky was featured on the cover of the Spring 2012 issue of Fiddler Magazine and penned the title cut of Special Consensus' album Scratch Gravel Road, which was nominated for the 2013 Best Bluegrass Album Grammy.

Becky's cover of Bill Monroe's "Southern Flavor" (including new lyrics by DeWayne Mize and Guy Stevenson and featuring members of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys) garnered the 2015 IBMA Recorded Event Of The Year award.

She was featured in the July 2015 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited and honored as a 2016 SPBGMA Songwriter Of The Year nominee as well as being chosen as first Runner Up for the 2016 IAMA Country/Bluegrass Song of Year for her composition "Nothin' To You."

Becky's third solo album, 'Tween Earth And Sky, was released in October 2014 on the Dark Shadow Recording label. It was the #1 album on the National Airplay Chart in the March and April 2015 issues of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. The singles "Nothin' To You" and "Southern Flavor" both reached #4 and each stayed on the chart 13 months. Her 2015 Christmas single "Gingerbread House" topped the BluegrassToday.com radio airplay chart both Christmas Day and New Year's Day. [less...]
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Alex Hargreaves
Newest member of the world renowned, Grammy award-winning, Turtle Island Quartet, Alex Hargreaves is an innovative, cross-genre violinist described as "one of the greatest improvising violinists in America today" by virtuoso mandolinist/composer Mike Marshall, and "the best young jazz violinist in America" by Matt Glaser, artistic director of Berklee College of Music, American Roots Program. Since 2008, Alex has been performing regularly on stages around the world, including Austin City Limits, Panama Jazz Festival, A Prairie Home Companion, Grand Ole Opry, as well as in France, Italy, Spain, and South Korea. He joined the Turtle Island Quartet in January, 2016. [more...]

At age 17, Alex, along with bassist Paul Kowert (Punch Brothers), teamed with Mike Marshall to form The Big Trio, and performed together extensively following the release of their self-titled album (Adventure Music 2008). From 2007-2014, Alex toured with Grammy-nominated singer/multi-instrumentalist, Sarah Jarosz, appearing on her three critically acclaimed albums, Song Up In Her Head, Follow Me Down and Build Me Up From Bones (Sugar Hill Records), as well as being featured on her Grammy-nominated instrumental, "Mansinneedof."  In between, he has also toured with Jerry Douglas, David Grisman, Bela Fleck, Danilo Perez, Darol Anger, Noam Pikelny, Leftover Salmon and has performed with many others including Mark O'Connor, Chris Thile, Brian Blade, Tim O'Brien and Sam Bush.

Throughout his career, Alex has received countless honors including the Daniel Pearl Memorial Violin from Mark O'Connor's Strings Conference, and the Alternative Styles Award from the American Strings Teachers Association (ASTA). He is the youngest ever (age 15) to win the Grand Champion division at the National Oldtime Fiddlers' Contest in Weiser, Idaho, and won the 2009 Grand Masters Fiddle Championship in Nashville. At the 2010 Monterey Jazz Festival, Alex was awarded the Jimmy Lyons Scholarship, a full tuition scholarship to the Berklee College of Music.

Alex's debut album, Prelude (Adventure Music, 2010), features Mike Marshall, Grant Gordy and Paul Kowert, along with special guests Bela Fleck and Noam Pikelny. Prelude portrays Hargreaves' maturity not only as a progressive violinist and improviser, but also as a composer, his original compositions comprising half the album. His playing on Prelude has been acclaimed by critics and musicians alike. "[Alex] plays with wit, authority and soulfulness belying his years," comments David Grisman, adding "in my opinion, he's destined to be one of the fiddle giants of the 21st century."

In pursuit of his passion for jazz and improvisational music, Alex completed the prestigious Berklee Global Jazz Institute at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Under the artistic direction of world-renowned pianist Danilo Perez (Wayne Shorter Quartet), the program allowed Alex to work one-on-one with a select group of faculty, including Perez, Joe Lovano, and John Patitucci. While studying at Berklee, Alex toured with Danilo Perez, and recorded on Perez's album, Panama 500 (Mack Avenue Records, 2014). The all-star lineup on the recording includes jazz icons John Patitucci, Brian Blade, Ben Street, Adam Cruz and others. 

Recently, Alex recorded and toured with longtime friends and musical collaborators Dominick Leslie, Nathaniel Smith and Samson Grisman. Their EP The Brotet, was released in June 2014 and features all original music by the band. Currently living in Brooklyn, NY, Alex performs regularly with a range of artists including Michael Daves, Roy Williams, Grant Gordy, Eddie Barbash, and Jacob Jolliff. [less...]
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Dobro Instructor
Sally Van Meter
Since 1977, Sally's slide guitar work has gained respect and recognition among peers and audiences for her commitment to staying true to playing music with heart and soul. She is well-known for her performances & recorded works ranging from solo work to collaborations with artists such as Led Kaapana, Jorma Kaukonen, Jerry Garcia, Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen, Cyril Pahinui, Jerry Douglas, Mary Chapin-Carpenter, Alison Brown, Taj Mahal, Peter Rowan & the Rowan Brothers, Yonder Mountain String Band, Tony Rice, Kathy Kallick, the Nashville Bluegrass Band, Gerry O'Beirne, Maura O'Connell, [more...] the inimitable Leftover Salmon and more.

On the Sugar Hill label,Sally's work on The Great Dobro Sessions (producers Jerry Douglas/ Tut Taylor) earned her a 1994 GRAMMY AWARD certificate for Best Bluegrass Recording from NARAS as a featured performer. In addition, Sally’s solo album All In Good Time was a finalist nominee for IBMA Instrumental Album of the Year. Film, television and radio credits include the film Gather at the River, the celebrated CBS' Northern Exposure and TNN's Texas Connection. Sally has also been invited to perform for nationally acclaimed NPR show A Prairie Home Companion, and Nick Forster's popular NPR radio show, E-Town.

In 1995, Sally joined with David Grisman and Jerry Garcia for a special project, The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers-A Tribute produced by Bob Dylan for Columbia Records. From 1977 -1996, Sally was a member of the Good Ol' Persons, a much-beloved San Francisco- based band. She has been an IBMA Finalist Nominee for Dobro Player of the Year from 1990-1997 and in 1996 won two IBMA awards, Best Instrumental Recording and Recorded Event of the Year (The Great Dobro Sessions). For nearly three decades, Sally's musical journeys have taken her from the US to the United Kingdom, Europe and Japan.

These days Sally resides professionally in Colorado. She currently freelances with touring acts that include Jorma Kaukonen, Chris Hillman & Herb Pedersen, Led Kaapana, and performs locally in Colorado as well as currently enrolled in film school. She misses California and the ocean each and every day. [less...]
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One more dobro instructor to be announced soon.

Bass Instructors
Aidan O'Donnell
Aidan O'Donnell
Aidan O'Donnell hails from Glasgow, Scotland. He completed a BA in jazz performance at Birmingham Conservatoire, where he won the prize for Most Promising Performer and was made an Honorary Fellow. Thereafter he moved to London, where he quickly became one of the most in-demand bassists on the scene. In 2008, with the aid of a grant from the Scottish Arts Council, he relocated to New York. Since then he has established himself as a much sought-after bassist, working with such notable musicians as Steve Kuhn, Ben Monder, David Berkman, Darol Anger, Maeve Gilchrist, Mr. Sun, Grant Gordy Quartet, and many more. In addition to this he took his MA in jazz performance at City College, where he studied with John Patitucci.  In college he won several distinctions, including jazz student of the year and outstanding senior jazz recital. Ian also was awarded a two week trip to study at Lamont's sister university in Nagoya, Japan. Ian performs regularly with TheSaurus, the Grant Gordy Quartet, The Expedition Quartet, Gypsy Swing Revue, Sacrebleu! and with other ensembles. [less...] Top
Todd Phillips
Todd Phillips (born April 21, 1953) is an American double bassist and A 2-time Grammy Award winner. Todd is the bassist of choice for many of the most innovative, as well as traditional, acoustic instrumental and bluegrass recordings made since the mid-1970s. Along with Tony Rice and Darol Anger, Phillips was a founding member of the original David Grisman Quintet. He spent five years playing both rhythm mandolin andbass with the group. He then spent another five years with Rice in The Tony Rice Unit. Rice and Phillips also worked together with J.D. Crowe, Doyle Lawson, Bobby Hicks and Jerry Douglas in the now classic bluegrass recording group: The Bluegrass Album Band - producing 6 albums over 15 years. [more...] Since then, Phillips has had the opportunity to work with a virtual "who's who" of acoustic music's finest, such as Vassar Clements, Ricky Skaggs, Sam Bush, Stephane Grapelli, Taj Mahal, John Hartford, Jerry Douglas, Alison Brown, Mike Marshall, Stuart Duncan, Tim O'Brien, Bryan Sutton, Chris Thile, Del McCoury, Natalie McMaster, Darrell Scott, Larry Campbell and many more.

In 1983 Phillips received his first Grammy Award for his work with The New South (Crowe, Skaggs, Rice, Douglas) in a live concert recording; "Bluegrass - The Greatest Show on Earth". In '83 he also finished his critically acclaimed first solo recording; "Released" (Varrick Records), featuring Tony Rice and Darol Anger. Throughout the 1980s, Frets Magazine readers voted Phillips five Readers Poll Awards for "beat jazz" and "beat bluegrass bassist".

Phillips has recorded much since then as producer, engineer and artist. In 1993 he produced Kathy Kallick's "Matters of the Heart", and in 1995 he released his traditional "old-time" bluegrass instrumental CD; "In the Pines" (Gourd Music), and another CD of all original jazz influenced compositions "Timeframe" (Compass Records). Todd's second Grammy Award came in 1997 as producer of "True Life Blues - The Songs of Bill Monroe". The album received three Grammy nominations and won "Bluegrass Album of the Year". The project also received two I.B.M.A. Awards (International Bluegrass Music Association).

Throughout the 1990s Phillips toured and recorded with PsychoGrass (Anger, Marshall, Grier, Trischka, Phillips), The Laurie Lewis Band, NewGrange (O'Brien, Anger, Marshall, Brown, Aaberg, Phillips), The Tim O'Brien Band w/Darrel Scott, and Phillips, Grier & Flinner, among others.

Phillips has produced recordings for guitar great David Grier; "Panorama", and two projects for mandolinist Matt Flinner; "The View From Here" and "Latitude", which lead to the formation of the innovative instrumental trio; Phillips, Grier & Flinner and their two highly acclaimed CD's "Phillips, Grier & Flinner" released in 1999, and "Looking Back" released in 2002 (Compass Records).These two DC's are unique in the world of Bluegrass or Jazz based instrumental music - successfully featuring only acoustic guitar, bass and mandolin as the complete ensemble.

Another new venture for Phillips came from his experiences teaching at several music camps, and in 2001 he completed an instructional video/DVD series for Homespun Tapes; "Essential Techniques for Acoustic Bass, I&II".

Recently he has been producing and engineering project at his home studio, including Noam Pikelny, Bearfoot Bluegrass, and PsychoGrass. He has just completed mixing (and playing on) the latest Laurie Lewis Band CD "The Golden West". Phillips' most current effort is a tribute recording project for Rounder Records featuring the songs of Hazel Dickens performed by a host of legendary artists including Joan Osborne, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris. In November '06 he appeared on the David Letterman Show (watch the video below) with Elvis Costello and Rosanne Cash during a trip to NY. to record them both for the Dickens tribute project

He currently tours with Phillips, Grier & Flinner, PsychoGrass, and Laurie Lewis. Along with John Doyle and Dirk Powell he forms the Band for Joan Baez. [less...]
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Missy Raines
Missy Raines is the most decorated bass player in the history of the International Bluegrass Music Association - with 7 Bass Player of the Year Awards to her credit. A former member of the Grammy Nominated Claire Lynch Band, the acclaimed duo, Jim Hurst and Missy Raines, Missy is one of the most popular figures in the bluegrass community and a trailblazer in her field for as long as she’s been playing music. Her rich pedigree in the field reaches from legends such as Mac Wiseman, Kenny Baker, Josh Graves and Eddie and Martha Adcock, to contemporary artists [more...] like Peter Rowan, Laurie Lewis, Dudley Connell and Don Rigsby. Missy also toured and recorded with the rootsy, edgy Brother Boys. [less...] Top

Songwriting Instructor
Robbie Fulks
Robbie plays by nobody's rules--except the ones he hears in his head.  He is prodigiously talented, with the soul of a country singer and the mind of a vaudevillian.  Besides, his scorn for the music industry makes ours look positively prosaic. But don't let that make you lose sight of THE SONGS. Widely regarded by those who monitor such things as one of the most gifted songwriters to ever ply the trade, he can sing the kids ditty "Eggs" and Haggard's "Sing a Sad Song" back to back and mean 'em both. While it is true he started off a honky tonk smartass, it quickly became evident that Robbie was a monster talent and some of his early Bloodshot albums have been rightly elevated to the status of "classic" and serve as their own Greatest Hits collections.  Seriously. [more...]

It is a damning condemnation of our world's musical taste that he has not been elevated to the ranks of the multi-faceted giants of songwriting like Nick Lowe, Dave Alvin and Harlan Howard. He damn well should be.  Robbie's cross-genre antics (like us, he has trouble navigating this world of hyphens) would have had him revered in times gone by;  such artists used to be coveted, now they confuse.  We take it personally that he's not more famous and consider it evidence of our world's moral and aesthetic decline.

Lost in the deserved accolades for being a fabulously unique, clever, and heartfelt writer is the fact that he's also one of the best guitarists around. The chameleon-like tall guy can whip it out in honky-tonk, country, bluegrass, power pop, or whatever strikes his ample whimsy at the time.
Robbie Fulks was born in York, Pennsylvania, and grew up in a half-dozen small towns in southeast Pennsylvania, the North Carolina Piedmont, and the Blue Ridge area of Virginia. He learned guitar from his dad, banjo from Earl Scruggs and John Hartford records, and fiddle (long since laid down in disgrace) on his own. He attended Columbia College in New York City in 1980 and dropped out in 1982 to focus on the Greenwich Village songwriter scene and other ill-advised pursuits. 
 
In the mid-1980s he moved to Chicago and joined Greg Cahill's Special Consensus Bluegrass Band, with whom he made one record (Hole in My Heart, Turquoise, 1989) and toured constantly. Since then he has gone on to create a multifarious career in music. He was a staff instructor in guitar and ensemble at Old Town School of Folk Music from 1984 to 1996. He worked on Nashville's Music Row as a staff songwriter for Songwriters Ink (Joe Diffie, Tim McGraw, Ty Herndon) from 1993 to 1998. He has released solo records on the Bloodshot, Geffen, Boondoggle (self), and Yep Roc labels.
 
Radio loves him too: there's been multiple appearances on WSM's "Grand Ole Opry"; PRI's "Whadd'ya Know"; NPR's "Fresh Air," "Mountain Stage," and "World Cafe"; and the syndicated "Acoustic Cafe" and "Laura Ingraham Show." TV: PBS's Austin City Limits; NBC's Today, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and 30 Rock. TV/film use of his music includes True Blood, My Name Is Earl, Mary Shelley's Frankenhole, Very Bad Things, and Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, and he has voiced or sung campaigns for Budweiser, McDonalds, Nickelodeon, and Applebees. From 2004 to 2008 he hosted an hourlong performance/ interview program for XM satellite radio, "Robbie's Secret Country." His compositions have been covered by Sam Bush, Kelly Hogan, Sally Timms, Rosie Flores, John Cowan, and Old 97s. 
 
Robbie's writing on music and life have appeared in GQ, Blender, the Chicago Reader, DaCapo Press's Best Music Writing anthologies for 2001 and 2004,  Amplified: Fiction from Leading Alt-Country, Indie Rock, Blues and Folk Musicians, and A Guitar and A Pen: Stories by Country Music's Greatest Songwriters. As an instrumentalist, he has accompanied the Irish fiddle master Liz Carroll, the distinguished jazz violinist Jenny Scheinman, and the New Orleans pianist Dr. John. As a producer his credits include Touch My Heart: A Tribute to Johnny Paycheck (Sugar Hill, 2004) and Big Thinkin' by Dallas Wayne (Hightone, 2000). Theatrical credits include "Woody Guthrie's American Song" and Harry Chapin's "Cottonpatch Gospel."  He served twice as judge for the Winfield National Flatpicking Guitar competition. He tours yearlong with various configurations and plays a weekly residency at the Hideout in Chicago.

Impressive, eh?  But it wouldn't mean nothing if he couldn't consistently and inventively whip a room into an appreciative froth no matter what he plays, how he plays it and who he plays it with. [less...] Top

Vocal Instructor
Michael Daves
Michael Daves was born in 1977 in the southern empire of Atlanta, Georgia. Soon after, he began to make loud noises, so his loving parents put music instruments in front of him. It was a good plan. He grew up in that grand tradition of staying up late & singing real loud. Although he's since moved north, the humid south remains in heart and sinus cavities.  Heralded as "a leading light of the New York bluegrass scene" by the New York Times, Daves has garnered attention for his work with Chris Thile, Steve Martin, Tony Trischka, and Rosanne Cash in addition to his solo performances.  [more...]

Daves' most recent project is a two-album set, Orchids and Violence, released February 2016 on Nonesuch Records. Both discs are self-produced and have identical track listing of mostly traditional bluegrass songs. The first features straightforward interpretations of them and was recorded live to tape in a 19th-century church by Daves and a band of roots-music innovators: bassist Mike Bub, violinist Brittany Haas, mandolinist Sarah Jarosz, and banjo player and Punch Brother Noam Pikelny. The second disc was recorded in Daves's home studio and includes bass, drums, and electric guitar, mostly played by Daves, and takes a raw, experimental rock approach to the same old-time material. "The identical track listing makes for a good comparison study," says the New York Times music critic Nate Chinen in his review, "and to his credit, it can be hard to pick which version of a tune is best."

Daves previously recorded bluegrass standards on Sleep with One Eye Open, his Nonesuch debut, a duo session with mandolinist Chris Thile (Punch Brothers, Nickel Creek) that earned the pair a 2011 Grammy nomination.  The duo makes for "a rip-roaring partnership," writes the New York Times.  "Bluegrass, in their hands, gets roughed up in the best possible way, with skill and fervor, and a touch of abandon."

Although he is best known as a roots musician, Daves gravitated toward experimental music and jazz while studying at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. Relocating to Brooklyn more than a decade ago, he began to crave the social interaction and musical challenges of bluegrass: "In Western Massachusetts, I was mostly doing jazz. By the time I moved to New York, I was ready to leave that behind, get back to my personal roots in bluegrass music. There were good jam sessions in New York and I was excited to reenter a regular jamming culture in the city. And I was getting back into rock music, too. The Brooklyn scene in 2003 and 2004 was pretty fertile. There was a lot of great, kind of raw, experimental rock music happening at that time, drawing me in, scratching an itch."

Since 2006 Daves has maintained a weekly residency on Tuesday nights at The Rockwood Music Hall in Manhattan where he continues to draw a devout following, and uses the informal setting to showcase special guest appearances with a who's who of bluegrass musicians including Noam Pikelny, Chris Eldridge, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O'Donovan.  Daves has also used the setting to develop his electric trio Wax Lion with experimental rock drummer John Colpitts (aka Kid Millions) and electric bassist (and visual artist) Jessi Carter, Daves' wife and collaborator on the electric side of Orchids and Violence.

Daves is also an in-demand teacher and noted booster of NYC's thriving bluegrass music community. In addition to offering private instruction and group classes in Brooklyn (as well as the occasional festival or music camp workshop) Daves recently launched an online school in bluegrass vocals on ArtistWorks.com, the leading music learning website.   [less...] Top

Artist-At-Large
Tim O'Brien
Born in Wheeling, West Virginia on March 16, 1954, Grammy winning singer songwriter and multi instrumentalist Tim O'Brien grew up singing in church and in school, and after seeing Doc Watson on TV, became a lifelong devotee of old time and bluegrass music. Tim first toured nationally in the 1980's with Colorado bluegrass band Hot Rize. Kathy Mattea scored a country hit with his song Walk The Way The Wind Blows in 1986, and soon more artists like Nickel Creek and Garth Brooks covered his songs. Over the years, Tim has released 15 solo CD's, as well as collaborations with his sister Mollie O'Brien, songwriter Darrell Scott, and noted old time musician Dirk Powell. [more...] He's performed or recorded with Steve Earle, Mark Knopfler, Bill Frisell, and Steve Martin, and produced records for Yonder Mountain Stringband, David Bromberg, and Canada's Old Man Luedecke. His newest release Where the River Meets the Road features songs from his native West Virginia. Bluegrass and Americana covers from songwriters Hazel Dickens, Billy Edd Wheeler, and Bill Withers sit alongside heartfelt autobiographical originals, with help from collaborators like Chris Stapleton, Kathy Mattea, Stuart Duncan, and Noam Pikelny.

Other notable O'Brien recordings include the bluegrass Dylan covers of Red On Blonde, the Celtic-Appalachian fusion of The Crossing, and the Grammy winning folk of Fiddler's Green. O'Brien formed his own record label, Howdy Skies Records, in 1999, and launched the digital download label Short Order Sessions (SOS) with his partner Jan Fabricius in 2015. He has two sons, Jackson (34) and Joel (26), and has lived in Nashville since 1996. Hobbies include cooking, skiing, and playing traditional Irish music.

O'Brien's solo shows feature his solid guitar, fiddle, and banjo, along with his engaging vocals and harmony from Jan Fabricius. Expect a range of original compositions and traditional arrangements from his many discs, mixed with stories and Tim's self-deprecating humor. [less...]
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Bands-in-Residence
Grant Gordy Quartet
Grant Gordy's growing body of original compositions finds room to flourish in the hands of longtime colleagues Alex Hargreaves (fiddle), Dominick Leslie (mandolin) and Aidan O'Donnell (bass). This crack team of prodigious young virtuosos represents the vanguard of NYC's exploding acoustic scene, at a crossroads with "Dawg music", modern jazz and bluegrass. Hensley’s voice is a throwback to the great country singer icons of the genre’s first golden era, at one moment evoking an early George Jones or Merle Haggard and at another, Conway Twitty or Hank Snow. Dobro master and 2015 GRAMMY nominated Rob Ickes is the perfect musical foil to Hensley’s prodigious talent. His Dobro complements Hensley’s vocal lines with both finesse and jaw-dropping fire, reminding audiences that he is one of the best to ever play the instrument.

Some things you know are just meant to be—but even when you do, it’s nice to get some outside affirmation. So while Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley were sure that their musical partnership was the right move at the right time, it was still welcome news when their debut Compass Records project, Before The Sun Goes Down, earned a nomination for the Best Bluegrass Album Grammy just about the time that Ickes took leave of the band he’d been in for nearly 20 years to make the joint venture the centerpiece of his career. And with the release of their new project, The Country Blues on July 8th the pair build on the first one’s strengths to take their unique musical conversation to an even higher level.

"Rob’s helping me to explore more of what to play and when to play it," says Hensley, who’s made the transition from hot-shot guitar phenom to well-rounded instrumental and vocal powerhouse look easy. "I’ve been in a band for so long that I’m really enjoying the simplicity of the duo thing—and Trey’s done a lot of band stuff, too, so we’re on the same page," responds Ickes, whose award-winning resonator guitar work not only helped to power famed bluegrass ensemble Blue Highway for two decades, but appears on hundreds of bluegrass and country albums. That same page extends to the other musicians who complement their work, starting with bassist Mike Bub and drummer John Alvey, who regularly accompany Ickes and Hensley on gigs around Nashville. "It works in so many different ways, we’ve done it duo, we’ve done some gigs with just John, we’ve done four piece, and we’ve done five piece with a fiddle," notes Ickes. "Trey and I have always clicked, and when he and I know what’s going on, everyone else just grabs on—and that’s kind of the fun of the gig, it’s constantly changing."

That fun pervades the 11 tracks on The Country Blues, even when the subject matter’s as mournful as the post-romance desolation of Hank Williams’ classic "May You Never Be Alone." "I hate to use the word," Ickes chuckles, "but we really did pick the material organically.   Our gigs in town have acted as a workshop—you can try something new during a show at the Station Inn and work it out right there. So when we got into the studio, we just blasted through, doing a few takes of each song, without stopping for anyone to fix anything. And then Trey and I went through the takes to make our choices."

That organic approach served well as recording sessions with regulars Mike Bub (bass) and John Alvey (drums) and a select handful of instrumental and vocal guests that included the likes of Vince Gill and Carl Jackson were sandwiched between long stints on the road as a duo. The unusual schedule allowed Hensley and Ickes to take what they were exploring on stages across the country and around the world into the studio, and the result is a set that expands the already wide-ranging palette of Before The Sun Goes Down in even more directions. "This guy is so versatile," Ickes says of Hensley, "that we can do just about anything. The bluegrass stuff can sound really straight ahead, but then we can do something in the vein of the Allman Brothers, and that’ll sound authentic, too. We could do a Bob Wills album, and that would be great as well—I haven’t found anything he can’t do."

Want proof? Check out the powerful Sonny Boy Williamson blues shouter, "One Way Out," or the mixed regret and determination of "Won’t Give Up My Train," memorably recorded years ago by Merle Haggard, or the ‘grassy dexterity of their original, "Everywhere I Go." Need more? How about the insouciant funk of "Never Can Pray Enough," imported from the Wood Brothers, or the southern rock of Charlie Daniels on "Willie Jones?" Then there’s the jazzy tour de force instrumental, "Biscuits And Gravy," written by Ickes as a kind of tribute to pedal steel master Buddy Emmons and so much more; there’s even a nod to the Grateful Dead in "Friend Of The Devil," a dazzling staple of the duo’s live shows.

Indeed, though the contributions from Alvey, Bub and the rest of a short but sweet list of friends who helped out complement the duo’s exciting work, there’s no doubt that it’s Ickes and Hensley who are front and center on The Country Blues—and that’s just how it should be. After all, when something’s meant to be, the best thing to do is to get out of the way and let it go. [less...]
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Hot Rize
It didn't take long after Tim O'Brien, Pete Wernick, Nick Forster, and Charles Sawtelle first appeared onstage together in 1978 for the bluegrass music world to realize that the Colorado band, Hot Rize, was something special. And by the time they bowed off the stage as a full-time act in 1990, they'd not only climbed to the top of that world as the International Bluegrass Music Association's very first Entertainers of the Year, but their stature was recognized across the board, with a nomination for a then-new bluegrass Grammy, a four-star album review in Rolling Stone, tours across four continents, and a legion of up-and-coming, broad-minded young musicians ranging from String Cheese Incident to mando monster Chris Thile learning their songs and singing their praises. [more...]

The reasons for the acclaim were, and remain, obvious. Steeped in bluegrass tradition through long hours on the road spent listening to the genre's giants—their very name was a knowing nod to Flatt & Scruggs' long-time flour mill sponsor—Hot Rize's music was and is equally informed by a taste for the music of Leadbelly and Freddie King, swing, old-time Appalachia and more in ways that mirror the broad sweep of Bill Monroe's influences. And while their respect for tradition was easy to hear (and, thanks to their suits and vintage neckties, easy to see), the fresh elements they brought, whether in Sawtelle's guitar eccentricities or Wernick's deployment of an effects pedal on his banjo, were enough to earn them the suspicion of some audience members—and the devotion of many more.

So when Hot Rize retired, it was natural for members to go on to distinguished careers of their own. For bassist and multi-instrumentalist Forster, that meant building a blend of environmental concern and musical curation into the popular and influential show, eTown; for lead singer, mandolinist and fiddler O'Brien, recognition as an award-winning Americana and bluegrass master of singing and songwriting; for Sawtelle, a thriving career as guitarist, engineer and producer for a host of artists; and for Wernick, acclaim as a presenter of bluegrass and banjo camps, genre-bending bandleader, and 15-year president of the IBMA.

Even so, Hot Rize turned out to be the band that refused to disappear. Rare reunion shows, like the 1996 one captured for the acclaimed So Long Of A Journey CD (2002), kept the flame burning, and when Sawtelle passed away in 1999, the surviving members brought brilliant guitarist Bryan Sutton on board—himself an already-acknowledged master—and carried on with occasional appearances, bringing their classic songs and captivating stage show to new generations.

In 2014, "21st century Hot Rize" released its first album with Bryan Sutton on guitar, When I'm Free (Ten In Hand/Thirty Tigers). As it was in the beginning, the quartet felt compelled to bring something new to the table.

"We've watched bluegrass evolve and while we've all been a part of that evolution as individuals, it was time to bring a new Hot Rize statement to the world," explains O'Brien. "We wanted to dig into new material."

Pete Wernick adds: "To be true to ourselves, we try to focus on being a living, evolving band, which means developing new material and going out and playing it."

Though half the group lives in Colorado and half in Nashville, they made collaboration a priority, working on new songs, helping one another flesh out lyrics and shape the material into songs that are representative of Hot Rize's identity. Once they began co-writing, everything else fell into place. "That work was, in many ways, the glue we needed to cement us back together," says O'Brien.

"Western Skies," a song written by Forster and O'Brien, epitomizes the band's Boulder origins and Colorado's rich history of progressive bluegrass; fittingly, it's the song that gives the album its title. "There's something about a wide-open Western landscape – the light, the quiet, the majesty of distant mountains – allows us to leave our troubles behind and be our truest selves, unencumbered by the pressures of life," says Forster.

Pete Wernick's barn-burner "Sky Rider" proves why bluegrass music's preeminent instructor is called "Dr. Banjo," as he trades lightning-quick solos with O'Brien and Sutton.

The track listing is punctuated by a sharp pair of covers: "I Never Met a One Like You," a Mark Knopfler original that he suggested Hot Rize record, and Los Lobos' "Burn It Down," a stripped-down rock song featuring Forster's lead vocal. Two cuts reflecting the group's love for traditional American music round out the album, the haunting "A Cowboy's Life" and "Glory in the Meeting House," an old-time tune with switched instruments – O'Brien on fiddle, Sutton on clawhammer banjo, and Forster on mandolin.

With writing and rehearsals placing Hot Rize firmly back in their groove, recording When I'm Free took just five days at the solar-powered Studio at eTown Hall in Boulder. The musicians eschewed booths and headphones in favor of sitting in a circle and recording live off the floor – "the first time I've recorded like that since 1971," muses Wernick. This organic approach resulted in an album that crackles with the energy of a Hot Rize live show, even if the band's Western Swing alter-ego sidekicks, Red Knuckles & The Trailblazers, aren't present.

Hot Rize will celebrate its 40th anniversary in January 2018 with a three-night stand at the Boulder Theater featuring visits from some of their favorite cohorts and collaborators. The concerts, as well as rehearsals and interviews, will be well-documented with video and audio releases slated to start in spring 2018. [less...]
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Kids Camp Instructors
Justin Hoffenberg
Originally from Northern Illinois, Justin Hoffenberg currently makes his home in Boulder, CO. Growing up in a musical household, he attended many concerts as a child and was drawn towards music. At 10 years old Justin joined his 5th grade orchestra, where he played the violin for one year before beginning Suzuki lessons, which he pursued until graduating high school. The summer between 5th and 6th grade proved a fateful one, as a family friend recommended attending the Rockygrass festival in Lyons, CO, as well as the camp that precedes it. Just ventured to the camp not knowing anything about Bluegrass, but was immensely changed by the experience. [more...] After spending the week with such fiddlers as Jason Carter (Del McCoury Band), Justin never looked back.

He played in bluegrass bands from the time that he was 13; professionally since he was 15 years old. While a senior in high school, Justin helped form Long Road Home, the bluegrass band with which he is still playing full time. When not with Long Road Home, you can find him playing with a variety of projects, across a variety of genres. He’s been known to appear with his Rock and Roll band, The Bimarinal, and even at times as a guest eTone on the eTown radio show (where he appeared with such acts as the Indigo Girls, Tim O’Brien, Big Al Anderson and the North Mississippi All Stars). [less...]
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Phoebe Hunt
Like all troubadours, singer-songwriter Phoebe Hunt is a rambler.  Recent years have seen the Texas native relocate from Austin to Nashville to her current residence in Brooklyn. This wanderlust is evident in the variety of projects she is a part of, moving in and out of multiple styles and genres of music with an effortless grace. You may find her performing completely solo, with her violin and her voice, drawing you into her memorizing vortex, or surrounded by a group of young musicians from all around the world as a part of The One Village Music Project, playing songs written and recorded at a program that Phoebe initiated out of her desire to play her role in healing the world with music.  [more...]

Having collaborated and toured with such inspiring artists as Ben Sollee, Shakey Graves, The Belleville Outfit, and The Hudsons, Hunt is never one to turn down the opportunity to create a new sound or be a part of a musical experiment, but it is as a band leader that she truly shines. In her musical project, "Phoebe Hunt Sings the New American Songbook", Phoebe presents a unique show nodding to the jazz and swing roots from where she came, by singing her renditions of the classics. Featuring an all star band of unique talents (Nathaniel Smith: Cello, Dennis Ludiker: Violin, Dominick Leslie: Mandolin, Danny Levin: Piano, Nick Falk: Percussion, Andrew Pressman: Bass), this captivating performance also features Hunt’s original material infused with the nuances of the art form. 

Recenly, she has returned from a journey to India, wherin she and a group of her peers studied Indian Classical Music with master violinist Kala Ramnath.  She has returned to the states with a vigor for creation, and is currenlty recording her debut full length solo album, Shanti's Shadow.  To support this creation, Phoebe is reaching out to her network of peers, friends, family and fans alike as she independently releases the essence from her soul. [less...]
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Dominick Leslie
Colorado native Dominick Leslie has been around live music all his life, having attended his first bluegrass festival when he was just five months old. Growing up he was surrounded by music, listening to and jamming with his dad’s bluegrass band, and thanks to his Dad’s influence, he has been playing instruments since he was old enough to hold one. At the age of four, Dominick acquired a ukulele tuned like the bottom four strings of a guitar, igniting a deep passion for music that still burns brightly. Dominick’s abilities progressed rapidly on guitar, fiddle and mandolin, but eventually the mandolin became his obsession and demanded his total focus. [more...]

By the time he was 12, Dominick was writing his own music and practicing every day. At 15, he recorded his first solo CD, “Signs of Courage”, receiving rave reviews from Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine, among others. Dominick’s technique and emotive style were far more advanced than his young age would suggest. In 2004, Dominick became the youngest contestant ever to win the Rockygrass mandolin contest. He also placed first in the Merlefest mandolin contest, and second in the Walnut Valley International Mandolin Contest.

Dominick was featured in Mike Marshall’s Young American Mandolin Ensemble. In October 2007, this elite group of seven young musicians was invited to perform with Mike at the Mandolines de Lunel festival in France.

Dominick has also had the unique opportunity to study with mandolin virtuosos David Grisman, Mike Marshall, Chris Thile, Don Stiernberg, Andy Statman, Mike Compton, and Hamilton de Holanda at the Mandolin Symposium. Over the years his bluegrass roots have evolved into interests in Jazz, Classical and other World music. These musical directions led him to enroll in the Berklee College of Music in 2008.

Dominick has been involved with many projects over the years including The Brotet, The Deadly Gentlemen, The Grant Gordy Quartet, Noam Pikelny & Friends and a few other spontaneous acoustic groups. Whether writing a new piece, learning a tune, or performing with his confreres, Dominick will always share his love of music with others. [less...]
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Leslie Ziegler
Hailing from both Michigan and West Virginia, Leslie has been studying the upright bass since she was just a little girl. As she got older she decided to further her music education at Western Michigan University where she focused on Music Education. While in college, Leslie also toured the midwest with the many orchestras and string ensembles she represented. Outside the classroom, Leslie immersed herself in Kalamazoo's local music scene where she discovered her deep love for Bluegrass and folk music. [more...] It didn't take long before she was singing and playing in numerous bands such as The Mossy Mountain Band and Who Hit John?

With string music tugging at her heart, Leslie decided to move to the mountains where there was sure to be no shortage of good pickers. Since the summer of 2009 when she moved to town, Leslie has played with some of the Colorado's most talented acts including Spring Creek Bluegrass Band, Bonnie and the Clydes, and many others. She is also an active member of Magnolia Row, another great Boulder-based group.

By day, Leslie teaches orchestra music in the Boulder Valley School District, where she nurtures and encourages the future generation of music lovers.

Leslie keeps The Railsplitters in time with her driving rhythm on the 1920s German upright which was restored at the Guarneri House in Grand Rapids, MI. [less...]
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Instrument Building Instructors
Michael Hornick
Michael Hornick is the builder of Shanti Guitars. After building his first guitar in 1985, he worked at Santa Cruz Guitar Company, and presently works alone in his shop in Missoula, Montana, building about twelve instruments a year. Michael has built the first place guitar prize for the nationally recognized Telluride Troubadour contest from its inception in 1991, and helped design the original mandolin and mandola kits. His love of lutherie is reflected in the high quality of craftsmanship found in each of his custom instrument. [more...] Michael has assisted students in the building of well over two hundred mandolin kits over the past seventeen years. [less...] Top
Gary Lundy
Gary Lundy
Gary has been assisting instrument building students off and on for many years. He has apprenticed with Dan Roberts and currently lives in Montana, where he teaches college classes. Top
Brody Klemer
Brody Klemer
Brody has been apprenticing under Michael Hornick since March of 2012. Under Michael's tutelage, Brody is primarily assisting with the guitar building process at the RockyGrass Academy. He has also recently completed his first full size guitar under Michael's wing. Top
Chuck Midgley
Chuck Midgley
Chuck has known Michael Hornick since 1992, owns a Shanti guitar, and has assisted Michael with the mando building class since 2002. Each year Chuck produces a mandolin while assisting other students with theirs. In his other life, he is a master mechanic building hot rods in California. Top
Dan Roberts
Dan Roberts began his instrument making career with Flatiron Banjo and Mandolin Company in Bozeman, MT. He was production manager for Gibson Montana Division before moving to California as luthier and production manager for Santa Cruz Guitar Company. Dan lived in Santa Cruz for 6 years before moving back to Montana to work for Santa Cruz out of his own shop. There he built the SCGC archtops, did new model design and some prototypes, and was the warranty repairman, service manager, and production manager with the help of an on-site [more...] shop foreman. After 17 years with SCGC Dan hung out his own shingle and is a Custom guitar maker building Roberts Guitars. Dan has been teaching the mandolin building class at Rockygrass Academy since 1996. [less...]Top
Bobby Wintringham
Bobby Wintringham is returning for his sixth year as an instructor at the Academy's mandolin building experience. He is a full time luthier building San Juan Mandolins in his shop in Dolores, Colorado.  Says Bobby, "The only thing more rewarding than building instruments is being able to share that knowledge with others." Top