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Steamboat Magazine

Bluegrass Redefined

09/06/2023 07:00AM ● By Sophie Dingle
(Photo: Tenth Mountain Division jams at Old Town Pub, sharing its version of bluegrass music. Courtesy of Trey Mullen.) 

From Steamboat Magazine Outdoors Edition 2023. 

Steamboat Springs, CO - Tyree Woods (of Buffalo Commons) lets his fingers fall across his guitar and the opening chords of “Monday” are amplified through the cool evening air of a summer concert in Steamboat Springs. If you frequent live music shows in Steamboat, it’s a sound that you’re probably familiar with: a bluegrass twang, a rock star riff, a feel-good country melody. It’s also a sound that no band can define. 

“It’s impossible to put a term to it,” says Tyree’s bandmate, Denton Turner.

Nevertheless, it’s music that has grown increasingly popular in recent years, materializing not only in Western mountain towns but across the country. While it’s often categorized under the umbrella of bluegrass because of the instruments, most bands have added elements like drums, keyboard and electric guitar to create their own sound. 

Tyree describes it as rootsy, organic and not overproduced.

“We can put on a show whether we have pedals and amps or if we’re in a canyon in the Gates of Lodore. People identify with the simplicity of that.”

At WinterWonderGrass last year, we noticed that the tent next to us was vibrating – the drums were banging, the bass was jamming and the crowd went wild. We made a point to secure a front-row spot for the band’s second set. It was Tenth Mountain Division, a Colorado-based band that prides itself on pushing this sound into new directions – Southern rock, ‘60s psychedelic blues and straight up rock ‘n’ roll, to name a few.

When I met them at Old Town Pub a few months later, they explained that the confusion over what type of music they play comes up a lot – people see a mandolin and they think bluegrass.

But, as many bands will tell you, the members often come from different backgrounds. For the
Tenth Mountain Division guys, those backgrounds spanned from soul to rock ‘n’ roll.

“We’re meeting in the middle,” says MJ Ouimette, the band’s guitar player. “We’ve been trying for years to describe it.”

For a while, they dubbed it “ski rock.”

“A lot of bands are associated with the scenes they’re a part of,” MJ says. “We’re part of this wonderful Colorado mountain scene that likes to jam.”

Newcomers to the scene often credit bands like Leftover Salmon and Yonder Mountain String Band as being pioneers  of the reinvented bluegrass band. But even Adam Aijala, Yonder Mountain’s guitar player, can’t quite put it into words. 

“We really thought that we were going to be a regular bluegrass band but when we started showing each other our original songs and sounds, it sounded different because we  had taken all of our outside influences and funneled it  through bluegrass instruments,” he says. “So we played what was coming out and stuck with it and stayed true to that instead.”

As it turns out, this new age of bluegrass is about staying true to yourself – and call it whatever you want.

“In this day and age, with computers and tech, you can lose human connection,” Denton says. “Bluegrass brings that back to the table. It’s great to go to a show and be entertained but when the show’s over, bluegrass can still be happening on the back porch. People want that connection.”

(Editor’s Note: Sophie Dingle is the editor-in-chief of Steamboat Magazine and an avid fan of “new grass.”)