Bill Monroe had his musical opinions. The legendary musical figure, credited with creating the genre of bluegrass, likely would have had some strong thoughts about current music. He’d for sure blast new country, as he should, and perhaps criticize as many current bluegrass artists as he praises; but he’d give bluegrass band Town Mountain the green light and thumbs up.
The Asheville, North Carolina-based band is six records into a solid career, with loads of time spent on the road earning fans nationwide. A band steeped in the bluegrass tradition while also exploring roots music and the singer-songwriter scene, they come armed with originals and are unafraid to put a spin on tunes they choose to cover. A traditional, nontraditional bluegrass band, they can belt out an alternative country or classic country tune just as much as they can zip through a fiery bluegrass instrumental. It’s a rough-around-the edges sound that leans more toward the grit of honky-tonk than it does the polish and experimentation of new-grass; that sound, along with a no-filler approach to making original music would surely get Monroe’s approval. His acceptance, however, and the approval of critics and colleagues in the modern musical world, is far from a band desire.
Town Mountain will perform Saturday at the Wild Horse Saloon.
“We gave up on trying to appease the bluegrass police a long time ago, and our music has gotten better since then,” said Town Mountain guitar player and vocalist Robert Greer.
Greer, the band’s soulful and fiery front man, didn’t dig into bluegrass until he was in his early 20s, his road to the genre a well-traveled route used by many a bluegrass musician. Start with Southern rock, find out about The Grateful Dead and then begin opening doors of roots musicians and singer-songwriters.
“I’ve always known about bluegrass. My dad’s a big fan, but I didn’t grow up in a bluegrass family by any means,” he said. “I grew up listening to a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allman Brothers, classic country, stuff like that. But I didn’t get the bluegrass bug until I was 21 or 22 years old, and quite a strong bug it is.”
That “bug” has symptoms that include a need to dive head-first into all aspects of the genre, including studying its key players through the years and the songs they’ve contributed to the canon. Town Mountain has done that, feeding the bug by spending long times on the road with a never-ending dedication to the music that serves as the base of their sound. From break-neck tempos to laid-back country grooves, or a crying-in-your-beer ballad delivered by Greer’s country croon, the band is comfortable pushing the music in whatever direction they damn well please. Playing live, they are an exhibition of masterful instrumentation; aggressive if the tune fits with an ability to stop on a dime. Emotion runs high whether playing a breakdown or ballad – it’s a big dose of rowdy fun.
With three Durango Bluegrass Meltdown appearances under their belt, as well as other local one-offs, Durango has been a band favorite since early in their career. Like they did locally, they’ve earned fans town by town and venue by venue, and they continue to knock legendary venues and festivals off their bucket list of places to play: Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma; The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee; and just recently, Red Rocks.
“We’ve been getting our Ph.D.s in bluegrass music for the past 15 years, man. We know a lot about the genre. A lot,” Greer said. “And the general listener, they think we’re a traditional bluegrass band. And that’s fine. We’re just trying to make good, original music.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.