The Travelin' McCourys and the Jeff Austin Band are teaming up to bring Grateful Ball to the New Mountain Amphitheater on Saturday, September 9th.
The Grateful Ball is a truly unique concert event with a set from Jeff Austin Band followed by a set from The Travelin' McCourys and ending with a combined set from both bands performing all Grateful Dead songs.
• More about The Travelin' McCourys •
The Travelin’ McCourys do not stand still. They are on the road—and online—entertaining audiences with live shows that include some of the best musicians and singers from all genres. It’s always different, always exciting, and always great music.
No other band today has the same credentials for playing traditional and progressive music. As the sons of bluegrass legend Del McCoury, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin and Rob McCoury on banjo continue their father’s work—a lifelong dedication to the power of bluegrass music to bring joy into people’s lives. And with fiddler Jason Carter and bassist Alan Bartram, the ensemble is loved and respected by the bluegrass faithful. But the band is now combining their sound with others to make something fresh and rejuvenating.
They recently played with the Allman Brothers at Wanee Fest and then brought the house down at Warren Haynes’ Annual Christmas Jam, an invitation only Southern Rock homecoming. Their jam with the Lee Boys was hailed by many as the highlight of the evening, and once word of the live video hit the streets, sent new fans online to watch a supercharged combination of sacred steel, R&B, and bluegrass. They’ve also performed with Warren Haynes, Phish, and have a tour scheduled with the aforementioned Lee Boys. Ronnie McCoury described it as “peanut butter and jelly.” It was just right.
They can push forward so far because their roots are so deep. The band has a confidence that only comes with having paid their dues with twenty years on the bluegrass road. Other groups and new fans hear this immediately—the tight rhythm, the soulful material, and the confidence in taking bluegrass from the safety of the shore into uncharted waters.
Ronnie says, “We like to go in and play traditional bluegrass music the way we do it with Dad, but we also like to be able to step into situations where we can really stretch out. If we need to plug in, we’ll plug in. We’re open to anything.”
It’s that attitude, backed up by talent, that marks great musicians, traditional or progressive. The Travelin’ McCourys are twenty-first century musical pilgrims and adventurers. They’re onto something new, just like Bill Monroe was in the 1940s, but now we can see and hear that adventure live or online. Go see them, or—if you hold still long enough—they’ll come to you.
• More about the Jeff Austin Band •
“When I’m writing a song, it’s not about the hot licks, it’s about the voice and how it can be showcased from song to song,” says musician Jeff Austin. His focus is on transporting his audience by way of his vocal: “It’s the direct communication with the crowd — not just asking them how they’re feeling, but bringing something out of them.” For Austin, the act of speaking to people through his art really means using his voice.
The career of the Colorado-based artist has already seen him break through jam and bluegrass scenes, play stages from The Fillmore Auditorium to Red Rocks Amphitheater, and outdoor events like Telluride Bluegrass Festival and Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, among many others. But with the launch of his solo career in 2014, Austin is now building on the foundations of previous ventures while honing his own sound and charting new courses.
“I’ve learned a lot from the people I’ve played with,” says Austin who has shared stages with such luminaries as Del McCoury, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Earle Scruggs, Jon Fishman, and Phil Lesh. And it’s artists such as these who have helped crystalize Austin’s idea of what he wants to do as he moves forward with his eponymous project. “From both the rock side and the bluegrass side,” he explains, “I’ve learned a lot about song structure, solo ideas, playing with guts, and being who you are.”
Although he considers the Jeff Austin Band his primary focus, the mandolinist and singer is also known for embracing collaborations. In 2004, he released a full-length album with Chris Castino (The Big Wu) that featured guest appearances by Noam Pikelny, Darol Anger, and Sally Van Meter. Just two short years later in 2006, Austin teamed with Keller Williams and Keith Moseley to record a live album of bluegrass takes on Grateful Dead covers. The project, released under the name Grateful Grass, benefited the Rex Foundation. And most recently, Austin revived 30db - his project with Brendan Bayliss of Umphrey’s McGee.
In truth, Austin only began playing the mandolin a few years before co-founding progressive bluegrass outfit Yonder Mountain String Band, a group with whom he parted ways in 2014. And, picking prowess aside, Austin has always considered his voice to be his first instrument. He was drawn to singing from a young age, pursuing musical theater in high school and college. That passion is still evident in his approach to song craft.
Austin draws from those varied roots and readily admits to still loving musicals, being fascinated by Madrigal singers, and tuning-in to a wide range of vocal powerhouses. He channels all of these influences into his solo career, while also seeking personal innovation. For his newest project, Austin sought out musicians on the cutting-edge of the acoustic and jazz music circles. Artists proficient in theory and technique, but not afraid to lend themselves to some “far-out arrangements.” The result is some of Austin’s most structured, yet exciting, compositions to date with an approach that fits within his own evolving journey and personal motto, "The work continues."
Although there is a strong undercurrent of momentum and innovation that course through Austin’s newest project, there is also a connection to the past with the bandleader revisiting selections from his back catalog. Offerings include “Dawn’s Early Light,” “Snow in the Pines,” and others dating back to the 1990s. What matters, Austin points out, is that those songs evoke strong emotional responses both from the audience and himself. Played by this new ensemble, those songs feel revitalized and fresh.
When it comes to dynamics and structure, Austin taps the variety of sounds and styles he's absorbed from theater, jamming, nearly twenty years of performance, and his love of experiencing live music as a fan. It’s that inner concert enthusiast that binds him to his own audience and a powerful exchange between the stage and the crowd. “I hope they take with them exactly what I hope they leave with us,” he says. “And that’s inspiration.”