The thirty seventh annual Bowers Bluegrass Competition is returning in late August to the historic Bowers Mansion Regional Park for 4 days of pickin’ and grinnin’.
Whereas bluegrass music is often related to Appalachia or the American South, its affect is international and immediately acknowledged due to the hallmarks of the sound: acoustic string preparations, a fast tempo and a efficiency type wherein musicians play a shared chorus and take turns with solos.
The Bowers Bluegrass Competition connects people and conventional music to Northern Nevada’s personal historic heritage by its chosen web site. Bowers Mansion was inbuilt 1863 by Comstock millionaires Lemuel “Sandy” Bowers and his spouse, Eilley Orrum Bowers. The peak of wealth and refinement on the time it was constructed, the mansion and its surrounding grounds are actually a regional park the place company can tour the historic home, picnic on the garden and benefit from the public pool.
The competition is placed on by the Northern Nevada Bluegrass Affiliation, a nonprofit with the easy and laudable purpose to “present info, instruction, performances and help to the bluegrass and conventional music group in northern Nevada.” All year long, NNBA is chargeable for organizing common jam periods, internet hosting courses and offering membership assets like discounted charges for occasions and free instruction. The Bowers Bluegrass Competition is the largest occasion on their calendar.
This yr’s competition will characteristic jam-band-friendly tenting preparations and a chuckwagon supper at close by Washoe Lake, a bluegrass gospel live performance on the Davis Creek Amphitheater, and performances by 12 bands. This yr’s headliner is the Grammy Award-nominated Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, who will take the primary stage on Saturday, Aug. 26, at 5:15 p.m. Eight of the 12 bands symbolize Northern Nevada’s personal bluegrass group.
“As people musicians, all of us maintain monitor of the place the festivals are, and it’s like our household reunion,” mentioned Holly Sternberg.
A fiddle participant since childhood, Sternberg is the one act billed as a solo performer, though she intends to convey her college students together with her to carry out a few of the music that earned her the champion’s title within the Nevada State Outdated-Time Fiddler’s Contest in Eureka.
Sternberg grew up taking violin classes in Quincy, Calif., studying to play classical music earlier than graduating to her favourite self-discipline: Celtic music.
“I really like the nuances and the ornamentations that you could get in Celtic music,” she mentioned. “I actually love the nitty gritty, minor, unhappy, mournful type of sound you’ll find in Celtic music.”
After touchdown in Reno for faculty, Sternberg came upon in regards to the weekly Celtic jam periods hosted at Ceol Irish Pub. This served as her introduction to what she considers a vigorous people and conventional music scene in Reno—one which, in her expertise, far outstrips much more populated cities.
“There are a ton of bluegrass gamers right here in Reno,” Sternberg mentioned. “After which there’s somewhat Celtic circle, and there’s somewhat old-timey circle. I’m actually pleased with Reno, as a result of there’s hardly any of that in Vegas, and it’s large, and hardly any of that in L.A., and it’s large.”
Sternberg spent years ingraining herself within the people music scene, changing into a part-time performer and full-time violin trainer. She’s performed and recorded with different bands (together with an upcoming album together with her duo challenge, Fiddlers Two). Whereas she’s the primary to confess that bluegrass hasn’t all the time been her forte, her dedication to conventional people music earned her a spot on the stage in August.
“We’re doing a whole lot of twin fiddling, although, which is de facto enjoyable,” she mentioned. “That’s the place you’ve gotten two fiddles, however one is taking part in melody, and one is taking part in both concord or some type of type of backing. It’s type of cool, as a result of a whole lot of instances, you don’t see bands with a couple of fiddler.”
Whereas Sternberg and her college students will discover a few of the older types of people music surrounding the style, bluegrass itself has loads of fashionable practitioners. One other Reno band referred to as Wheatstone Bridge has been performing for many years, recording originals and drawing inspiration from comparatively fashionable artists.
“My favourite band on this planet is Devo,” mentioned Jill Marlene, songwriter, singer and co-founder of Wheatstone Bridge. “Our subsequent album goes to be referred to as Campfire Songs for the Apocalypse. That’s as a result of we write Dixie Chicks songs in regards to the shit of the world. They’re lullabies and type of ardour songs in regards to the finish of the world.”
Like Sternberg, Marlene entered the folk-music scene by Celtic music, though she mentioned Wheatstone Bridge’s sound is extra Americana-inspired. She is joined by guitarist and songwriter Steve Barron, singer and fiddler Amy Willoughby, mandolinist Zeke Griffin, percussionist Diana Ekins, banjo participant Joseph Martini and bassist Jim Buehler.
Wheatstone Bridge acquired its begin within the ’90s when Marlene met Barron, her songwriting associate. The lineup has modified and tailored through the years, however Marlene’s songwriting has been one of many by threads.
“I used to be a poet means earlier than I used to be a songwriter,” she mentioned. “Generally Steve comes with an thought and a primary line, after which I’m like, ‘OK,’ after which I take 10 minutes, and we write it, and it’s good enjoyable.”
In Marlene’s expertise, critical bluegrass gamers on the town all know one another, both by proximity or popularity, and touring to bluegrass festivals and jam periods, even in close by states, is widespread. Whereas a few of her bandmates have attended and carried out within the Bowers Bluegrass Competition in years previous, this can be her first expertise with the competition as both a visitor or performer. To Marlene, bluegrass music’s mix of simplicity, heritage and technical ability provides the proper automobile for lyrics—calling the band’s catalog “remedy songs.”
“Bluegrass, there’s one thing historic and mystical about it, and I really feel like persons are moved by that type of sound,” Marlene mentioned. “What messages are you able to ship? How are you going to sneak these concepts in? How are you going to soften an thought for somebody sufficient for it to hit their coronary heart as a substitute of hit their head?”
The basic connection to the nation’s musical spirit is an enormous draw for a lot of bluegrass musicians.
“I actually love the tales of bluegrass music and the cultural historical past of it that I feel that we, as residents of the USA, are most linked to,” mentioned Brooke Chabot, guitarist and vocalist of Truckee-based band Rubicon Gold. “I really feel prefer it’s the deepest root, together with blues, of our historical past.”
Rubicon Gold can even be taking part in on the Bowers Bluegrass Competition for the primary time, and to Chabot and her bandmates Mick Melvin (bass and vocals), Peter Anderson (banjo and vocals) and Dave Zimmerman (mandolin and vocals), it’s an opportunity to fulfill and play with likeminded individuals exterior of their Truckee bluegrass scene.
“I met all the blokes in Rubicon Gold on the native bluegrass jam at Alibi Ale Works in Truckee on Sunday nights,” Chabot mentioned. “We’ve been taking part in primarily in Truckee. We’ve had a few gigs in Incline Village, and we’re trying ahead to recording. We’ve fairly a couple of originals that we’ve put collectively.”
Rubicon Gold revels in its three- and four-part vocal harmonies, and apart from their originals, the band enjoys performing bluegrass renditions of widespread songs from the ’80s and ’90s. Chabot mentioned that the power to fulfill and play stay is integral to each their sound and bluegrass tradition at massive—although they managed to maintain the jam periods going over Zoom in the course of the pandemic.
“It may be quite simple music, and you’ll choose up with nearly anyone who is aware of it,” she mentioned. “Everybody is aware of the identical handful of songs which can be part of the gathering. And it’s simply a good way to attach with individuals. … You possibly can simply sit down and play the songs that everybody is aware of.”
To Chabot and lots of the musicians attending Bowers Bluegrass Competition this yr, the connection provided by the style isn’t simply reserved for the gamers.
“I feel the authenticity of it, it’s simply, actually, the core of the style,” Chabot mentioned. “The sensation of it’ll be there, and it’s nothing however completely happy experiences for everybody.”
The Bowers Bluegrass Competition takes place Thursday, Aug. 24, by Sunday, Aug. 27, primarily at Bowers Mansion, 4005 Bowers Mansion Highway, in New Washoe Metropolis. Tickets costs differ. For tickets or extra info, go to www.nnba.org/bowersbluegrassfstival.