Grand Targhee Bluegrass is Almost Here! Get to Know the Lineup Pt. 1

The 32nd Annual Grand Targhee Bluegrass Fest is on the horizon! You can almost hear the music floating up the mountain while you enjoy the summer weather and ride the chairlift towards spectacular views. With the gathering of so many renowned artists and, especially, the people that come together to create a vibe only found here, it’s hard to not get excited. While everybody playing at this year’s fest is certainly not-to-be-missed, let’s take a second to meet two of the bands!

Railroad Earth

Returning for another festival here in the Tetons, Railroad Earth is one of those bands that is just about impossible to pin down to a single genre, but always leaves us wanting more.  Mandolin player, John Skehan described the group as “…a string band, an amplified string band with drums.”  The variations in instruments, rhythms, voices, and styles ensure that each Railroad Earth performance is unique and spirited and a great addition to any summer festival mood.

Not sure who they are? In the breakup of one of New Jersey’s most popular bands, From Good Homes, in early 2001, Railroad Earth was born. Later that year, after appearing at summer festivals on the bluegrass circuit, Railroad Earth merged traditional bluegrass with folk, Celtic, jazz, and rock music. Todd Sheaffer, the group’s main songwriter and former lead singer of From Good Homes, stood at the forefront of the group’s vision, and Railroad Earth began releasing albums in six months of the band’s formation.

The bluegrass-rock group broadened their songwriting style as they grew, and carried on the improvisational, multiple-genre tradition started by bands like the Grateful Dead, String Cheese Incident, and Phish. The group played with the idea of traditional bluegrass and jam band tradition to produce a unique eclectic blend of folk, Celtic, jazz, and rock filtered through a bluegrass lens, often titled as JamGrass by fans, but what genre of music is it then? According to Skehan: “I always describe it as a string band, but an amplified string band with drums.” Tim Carbone tries with: “We’re a Country & Eastern band! ” From Todd Sheaffer: “A souped-up string band? I don’t know. I’m not good at this.” Whatever type of band they may be or sound they may have, this is a band you do not want to miss! Listen below and try to describe it yourself or forget about trying to label it and lose yourself in the music.

The band says they create the set list before of each show, but “after the first set we might decide to reevaluate [it] based on the setting and the response from the crowd…’s very intuitive.”  With about 15 years of music in their repertoire, the band certainly has a lot of tunes to choose from when crafting of the set list for each show, and is able to keep things interesting night after night, festival after festival. At Grand Targhee Bluegrass Fest, you get a one-of-a-kind experience in a one-of-a-kind setting from a truly one-of-a-kind band.

Current Members:

Todd Sheaffer – Lead vocals, Acoustic guitars
Tim Carbone – Violins, Electric Guitar, Vocals
John Skehan – Mandolin, Bouzouki, Piano, Vocals
Carey Harmon – Drums, Hand Percussion, Vocals
Andrew Altman – Upright and Electric bass

Sam Bush Band

Another act with an eclectic sound is the Sam Bush Band, who extended the musical capabilities of the mandolin and the fiddle to incorporate a seamless blend of bluegrass, rock, jazz, and reggae. In his career, Bush pioneered and guided the evolution of modern hill country music and become the founder and leader of the New Grass Revival.

Together with the bluegrass supergroup Strength in Numbers, he pushed the traditions even further. During a five-year stint with the Nash Ramblers, he provided a diverse range of textures for the songs of Emmylou Harris, but he has continued to explore an eclectic musical spectrum. Bush was exposed to country music and bluegrass at an early age through his father’s record collection and his musical interest was further piqued when he attended the Roanoke Bluegrass Festival in 1965. A child prodigy on the fiddle, he formed a band with childhood friends Wayne Stewart and Alan Munde, later of Country Gazette, and recorded his first album and made his debut appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Inspired by the New Deal String Band’s rock-flavored approach to bluegrass, he formed the New Grass Revival in 1972.

Over the next 17 years, Bush and the New Grass Revival revolutionized the music of the hill country. Shunned by some traditionalists, New Grass Revival played bluegrass fests slotted in late-night sets for the “long-hairs and hippies.” Beginning in 1980, Bush and Cowan periodically jammed with the Dockbusters Blues Band. Bush recorded his debut solo album, Late as Usual, four years later. In 1989, Bush and Fleck joined Mark O’Connor (another highlight of this year’s festival!), Jerry Douglas (joined this year by Tommy Emmanuel), and Edgar Meyer in an all-star bluegrass band, Strength in Numbers. When Fleck and Cowan elected to leave the New Grass Revival in 1989, Bush disbanded the group and joined Emmylou Harris’ Nash Ramblers. Bush was the newgrass commando, incorporating a variety of genres into the repertoire. He discovered a similarity to reggae rhythms and developed an ear-turning original style of mandolin playing, before returning to solo work.

Bush continued to be an in-demand session player as the 21st century dawned and continued to release solo projects. In 2010, the Kentucky state legislature passed a resolution that named his hometown of Bowling Green as the “Birthplace of Newgrass,” and Bush himself as “Father of Newgrass.” Sam Bush Band continued to tour, blending Newgrass, traditional bluegrass, folk, and country with hardcore chops that never cease to please even the geekiest of folkie. This year is your chance to get to know “Newgrass” as it was back when it was created and see how it evolved into the current styles of today. Need a hint at what awaits you this August? Check out the video below!

Current Members:

Sam Bush – mandolin, fiddle, vocals
Todd Parks – bass, vocals
Scott Vestal – banjo, vocals
Stephen Mougin – guitar, vocals
Chris Brown – drums

So, let the countdown begin! Get those festival clothes laid out just right, listen to some festival-inspired playlists, and, get ready to have a real good time, in a real good place, with a lot of real good people. Ready or not, here comes the 32nd Annual Grand Targhee Bluegrass Fest!