2016 FirstGrass Concert: June 15

Festivarians at FirstGrass (photo Benko Photographics)
Festivarians at FirstGrass
(photo Benko Photographics)

For 15 years now Yonder Mountain String Band has officially "kicked-off" Telluride Bluegrass with their Wednesday night show at the Telluride Conference Center. Eight years ago we decided that kick-off needed a kick-off of its own...

On Wednesday, June 15 we invite you to board the free gondola from Telluride to Mountain Village for this free outdoor show in the inspiring Sunset Plaza. From 5-8pm, we're excited to present full sets from sweet acoustic duo Mandolin Orange followed by the Int'l Bluegrass Music Association's 2014 Entertainers of the Year Balsam Range. What better way to begin your Telluride Bluegrass than with this cherished Festivarian tradition in Mountain Village.

Sunset Plaza in Mountain Village

Sunset Plaza is located along Mountain Village Boulevard in the heart of it all -- the Village Center. Well-located with easy access of the Chondola, Sunset Plaza is aptly named because of its west-facing orientation resulting in great sun exposure and amazing sunset views.

Sunset Plaza in Mountain Village (photo Benko Photographics)
Sunset Plaza in Mountain Village
(photo Benko Photographics)

Sunset Plaza is easily accessible by foot or gondola. Once in the Village Center, stroll through Heritage Plaza and Conference Center Plaza where many of the town’s shops and restaurants are located before following the cobblestone walkway to Sunset Plaza.

As always, the gondola from Telluride provides a breathtaking (and free) means of traveling to Mountain Village. Plan to spend the evening in Mountain Village - dining at one of the numerous great restaurants, wandering the shops, taking in the spectacular views, and enjoying the official first bluegrass of the 43rd Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

2016 FirstGrass Artists

Balsam Range
It has been said that the loudest word in the world is your own name. It is who you are, it is how you have been identified to the world and it is a huge part of your self-perception. Place-names can create strong mental images and add building blocks of self-identity that underscore a treasured sense of “where I’m from” or “who I really am.” These powerful feelings of place to which mountain folk cling help define a sense of home shared by those who live there. [more...]

Such is the name Balsam Range to a group of five outstanding acoustic musicians and singers from North Carolina. For their band name, they thoughtfully and respectfully adopted the name of a majestic range of mountains that surround part of their home county of Haywood, NC where the Smokies meet the Blue Ridge, the Balsam Range.

Adding to an already impressive list of awards and honors, the band received numerous top honors in the 2014 IBMA Awards, including Entertainer of the Year. Balsam Range was also honored at Vocal Group of the Year. Buddy Melton was named Male Vocalist of the Year, and Tim Surrett received a Mentor Award.

The band’s fifth album, Five, made its Billboard Chart debut at #4 and remained on the Billboard chart for an impressive 6 weeks. Additionally, Balsam Range consistently tops radio airplay lists with its history of top singles.

Balsam Range is comprised of five gifted friends who all hail from Western North Carolina. Tim Surrett delivers entertaining MC work as well as seasoned lead and harmony singing. Tim plays bass and he will occasionally share his talents on the resonator guitar. He charms with spontaneity, wit and professionalism. A stellar fiddler, Buddy Melton is also one of the most gifted tenor voices in Bluegrass and Americana today. His range and tone give Balsam Range its identifying sound. With his envied guitar style, Caleb Smith has been called “one of the top young guns of guitar.” He sings with both power and control, delivering a high energy song or a tender ballad with equal vocal skill. Darren Nicholson is a gifted mandolin player and harmony singer with tremendous enthusiasm for American heritage music. That twinkle in Darren’s eye says it all. He is usually up to something! Grammy Award winner, Marc Pruett brings more than 40 years of entertainment experience to the group. He brilliantly complements the ensemble with the intuitive, traditional three finger style that has made him one music’s most admired banjo players.

Elements of jazz, country, gospel, swing and old-time music are all infused into the fresh sound of this unique Southern band. It’s five distinct personalities creating one remarkable musical experience. It’s the award-winning Balsam Range.
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Mandolin Orange
After the breakout critical success of Mandolin Orange's Yep Roc debut, 'This Side of Jordan,' you'd expect the relentless onslaught of touring that accompanied it to seep into the writing of the North Carolina duo's follow-up. You'd expect the sound to reflect long days on the road, long nights onstage, unfamiliar cities, countless miles.  You'd expect the classic "road record." But you'd be wrong. [more...]

"All of these songs are definitely a product of being on the road," says multi-instrumentalist/singer Emily Frantz of Mandolin Orange's gorgeous new album, 'Such Jubilee,' "but they're not about the road."

"They're about home," explains songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/singer Andrew Marlin. "Not because we were missing it, but because when you're gone so much, you start realizing what you have and what's waiting for you. You realize there's this place to come back to at the end of the journey, and that's where a lot of these songs come from."

The road has been good to Mandolin Orange since the 2013 release of 'This Side of Jordan.' NPR called the album "effortless and beautiful," naming it one of the year's best folk/Americana releases, while Magnet dubbed it "magnificent," and American Songwriter said it was "honest music, shot through with coed harmonies, sweeping fiddle, mandolin, acoustic guitar and the sort of unfakeable intimacy that bonds simpatico musicians like Gillian Welch and David Rawlings." The record earned them performances everywhere from the iconic Newport Folk Festival to Pickathon, as well as tours with Willie Watson, Gregory Alan Isakov, The Wood Brothers, and more. 

"When you play these festivals, you start meeting all these other people doing what you're doing," says Marlin. "There are so many musicians together in one place and you become part of this community. We got to hang out with Tim O'Brien and Peter Rowan and Norman Blake. Sitting down and talking to them and playing with them, you get to see the personal side of them rather than the hero side." 

"With all the touring and festivals, you look around and realize, 'OK we're actually doing this now,'" adds Frantz. "We're not just trying to do it, it's what we do, and that ties into a lot of the themes on the record."

It's at the heart of album opener 'Old Ties and Companions,' which takes stock of such rewarding moments. 

"A good friend of mine and I were talking about this time in our lives - we've got all these friends playing music and everybody's playing with everybody and trading songs and it’s really special," explains Marlin. "But you don't know how long that's going to be around, so we don’t take this time for granted."

"Old man give me endless time," he and Frantz sing in stirring harmony. "Never let these ties sever / Cause heaven knows in all this foolin' round these times won't last forever."

To make the most of such magical, ephemeral moments, the duo set up facing each other with just a vocal and instrumental mic each in Asheville's Echo Mountain studio for the 'Such Jubilee' sessions. It proved to be the perfect setup to capture the undeniable chemistry of their live performances. 

"I think a lot of times when people set out to layer tracks on a recording, they want the rhythm or a click track first," says Frantz, who initially met Marlin at a 2009 bluegrass jam in Carrboro, North Carolina. "But we've just played together for so long that subconsciously we know where all the spaces need to be and what's going to fill in afterwards. When it's just the two of us in there, we don’t have to orchestrate as much ahead of time because it all just falls into place so naturally."

On "Settled Down," Marlin looks at what it takes to find that level of comfort in a relationship, singing, "Moments, just fleeting times with little wings of gold / remind us of how real we find true love in every sign of getting older." "Daylight" looks for peace in long-term companionship and trust, "That Wrecking Ball" meditates on the sometimes ravaging passage of time, and album closer "Of Which There Is No Like" is a delicate, wistful duet about coming home, literally and metaphorically.

Not all of the songs are purely introspective, though. "Jump Mountain Blues" takes its name from a town in Virginia where Marlin spent weekends growing up. According to local folklore, a Native American girl threw herself off of the mountain rather than give up her true love to marry the man of her father's choosing. Marlin conjures up a haunting vision of the father, forced to watch her ghost rise and fall again every night when he looks at the peak. "Rounder" is written in the cowboy tradition and can be heard as a statement against capital punishment, while "Blue Ruin" was penned in response to the horrific violence at Sandy Hook.

"I was thinking about all those kids who wouldn’t be there on Christmas morning," says Marlin. "People can get so heated and so serious about change and addressing gun violence when something that traumatic happens, but a month or two afterwards, they've all cooled down and it's not in the forefront of their thoughts anymore. But two years later, those kids still aren't around on Christmas morning and their parents are still dealing with that."

It's a weighty moment on an album that doesn't shy away from grappling with difficult topics: intimacy, death, distance, regret. 'Such Jubilee' is a record about home, both the place and the idea. Some days it's a safe, warm, loving refuge from the world outside. Other days it's cold and empty and too quiet. Either way, it's always waiting for you at the end of the road. [less...]

The FirstGrass Concert is completely free thanks to a partnership between Planet Bluegrass and the Town of Mountain Village.

Planet BluegrassTown of Mountain Village