Boston: the Acoustic Youth Movement

Words By Chris Pandolfi (

Two shows down, three to go on the We’ll Do It Live Tour. Next stop: Boston, MA. I can think of no better place for a big show than in the middle of my old hometown with our family of Northeastern friends. Boston has been especially amazing to visit in recent years, as a team of top tier young musicians from all over the country continues to amass in the heart of a city that has always had an amazing folk/bluegrass tradition (really an amazing music scene in general). Some are there to study, some to pursue real professional opportunities, and many merely to be a part of this increasingly fertile community. This is the kind of scene where people learn, where opportunities arise. It’s also a very open-minded scene–great original music is already happening and much more is surely on the way. Here’s a quick look at the Boston scene, then and now:

When I moved to Cambridge in 2001, Andy Hall and Casey Driessen had just finished at Berklee and moved to Nashville. I was at Berklee for 2 years (2001-2003), but the acoustic scene at the college was pretty quiet. I was the first ever banjo principal. Right around then Crooked Still started getting some real traction. I first crossed paths with them at the Cantab, one of the mainstays of the Northeastern bluegrass scene over the years (authentic Boston appeal, complete with surly bartenders, heavy accents and host/folk hero Geoff Bartley). Crooked Still have since established themselves as one of the most innovative acoustic bands ever. The cello is now a mainstay on the scene, thanks to Rushad Eggleston and Tristan Clarridge. The band keeps a full schedule of great clubs and festivals and Aoife just had a song cut by Alison Krauss–their star continues to rise, and they have definitely played a role in the recent resurgence.

Greg’s 4-finger style is an integral part of Crooked Still’s sound, and also a big leap forward for the banjo. After a stint with Bruce Springsteen (talk about mainstream banjo) he’s focused on a side-project that shines a light on some of the best new blood in Boston: The Deadly Gentlemen. Their new record is another highly original endeavor, heavy on musical grooves and lyrical/vocal stylings like you’ve never heard. It’s all acoustic, and it’s great. The other Gentlemen: Dominick Leslie on mandolin, Stash Wyslouch on guitar (Blue Moose and the Unbuttoned Zippers), Mike Barnett on fiddle (Grisman Quintet), and Sam Grisman on bass.

Sam and Dominick have been hanging with the Dusters for years. Sam also performs with his dad (David Grisman BG Experience) as well as a host of other great players. He’s one of the only young bass players who really knows the past and the present. He’s super talented and super knowledgeable, so much fun to play with. Dominick emerged from the CO front range scene moving to Boston to study at Berklee (I wrote his recommendation–an easy task). He is now a full scale monster, as versatile/tasteful as anyone on mandolin. He’s taking time off right now to work with the Gentlemen and also the Bee Eaters, another great fusion acoustic band on the Boston Scene.

The Boston Globe calls The Bee Eaters “another strange and wondrous new species,” produced by Boston’s “fast evolving progressive acoustic music scene.” The band features wunderkind siblings Tristan and Tashina Clarridge on cello and fiddle. I’ve heard these two read eachother’s minds live in a jam–it’s amazing.

One of the hottest young bands on the scene is Joy Kills Sorrow. JKS is officially on the circuit, with a full schedule of quality dates and a legit buzz. The band features Wes Corbett on banjo–one of my favorite young players. With crazy technical ability and a wide musical scope he’s already one of the best. I snuck him into a Drew Emmitt Band show in Seattle years ago (he’s from Bainbridge Island), and we’ve been friends since. I’m excited for him and his band (all accomplished players)–they are making great original music. They are finding their sound and people are finding out about them. JKS (pic below): Wes Corbett, Jake Joliff on mandolin (we played a showcase together at IBMA when he was 13 or so–already ripping), Matt Arcara on guitar (also a great luthier), Emma Beaton on vox and Bridget Kearney on bass.

Bridget plays bass in another noteworthy new band that was conceived at the New England Conservatory: Lake St. Dive. Their music is so fresh, so compelling. It’s fusion–of genres, sounds and people. It’s a total success. Check them out. Also check out Sarah Jarosz (picture below), another undeniable talent on the Boston scene, also an NEC student. Sarah’s music is way beyond her years, and she’s already a household name despite her young age. She just finished a star studded record for Sugar Hill, featuring acoustic music’s biggest names. Another young gun, Alex Hargreaves, plays fiddle on Sarah’s record and I have to say he shines among the giants. Alex is the best of the Berklee Jazz scene, and also the progressive acoustic scene. Look out, seriously.

Sierra Hull just finished a stint in Boston, studying at Berklee and playing with her band Highway 111. They are the best of modern bluegrass, with Ron Block on banjo (at least occasionally). Sierra has been around the scene for a while. She’s a super talented player and singer–bluegrass royalty in waiting.

Another cool band on the fringes is the Boston Boys. Eric Robertson has a real modern songwriting flow and a pretty broad sonic vision. Great original music. Della Mae is quality bluegrass girl power from Beantown. As Mike Marshall says, “So refreshing to see a band of ‘ladies’ but that’s not what it’s about. These gals can also get down and are not messing around.” Jordan Tice is a great guitar player on the Boston scene. He’s pumping out serious original instrumental music–some of the most ambitious stuff I have heard, really quality. Look for a new record with Paul Kowart (bass, Punch Bros) and Simon Chrisman (dulcimer prodigy–one of the few).

It makes me happy to see the Boston scene thriving. I learned a ton there, about music and life, forging friendships with people like Zack Hickman and Josh Ritter, Lincoln Meyers, Roger Williams, Flynn Cohen, David Newsam, Tony Watt, the Bag Boys and many others. Matt Glaser, John McGann, Dave Hollender and Roger Brown (the new Pres) continue to do amazing things at the Berklee College of Music, which had very little going on in this musical realm 10 years ago. Music fans everywhere owe them thanks. Boston is now the destination for young players from all over. It’s reputation as a music town never really wavered, but it’s acoustic legacy just got a lot stronger.

Good luck to all these amazing musicians (I definitely missed a few)–I look forward to all the amazing things that they will do.


Popular posts from this blog

Buckethead: Gimmick or Guitar God?

Livetronica Sampler 3.22.11

Billy Strings 4.18.19

Joe Russo's Almost Dead 6.1.24

PREVIEW: Yarmony Music Festival 6.28 - 6.29.24