Not many musicians can say they got into a certain style of music because their mom snuck them into a concert. But its how mandolin player Gabriel Marowitz was turned onto bluegrass, after his mother got him into a Yonder Mountain String Band show at Boulder’s Fox Theatre.
Marowitz had been on a trip checking University of Colorado, and attending that show was all it took to push him toward acoustic. That was in 2004, a great time and a great venue for Marowitz to be turned onto Colorado’s jamgrass scene, as that venue on the hill in Boulder is a space that has hosted all of the great Colorado jamgrass bands and has likely inspired many that have caught a show in that space to, like Marowitz, start picking bluegrass and join a band.
Marowitz currently plays mandolin in the Seattle quintet Warren G. Hardings, who will perform a virtual show Saturday as part of the Stillhouse Junkies Sidecar Online Concert Series. Performing alongside the Warren G. Hardings are Stillhouse Junkies, along with tweener act Sofia Chiarandine and Ariel Wyner.
“The guy on the door put a big black X on my hand and let me into the show with my mom even though it was a 21-and-over show. I saw Jeff Austin and Yonder playing bluegrass music and had never seen so many happy people having a good time and that’s where I got bit by the bug,” Marowitz said. “I discovered it from there, and eventually started playing myself and going further back down that bluegrass rabbit hole.”
The rabbit hole means that from Yonder you dig into Hot Rize or Sam Bush, then perhaps Tony Rice or The Seldom Scene, until eventually, you make your way back to Flatt and Scruggs and Bill Monroe.
You also seek out jams, which isn’t hard to do in a city like Seattle, as it’s loaded with players and places to test the musical waters while playing music with numerous like-minded people.
The band formed out of those jams, a coming together of people like Marowitz who were getting their feet wet in the bluegrass pool.
“We got a good group of guys together, and we were all getting into it at the same time. And as these things do, they just grew and developed over the years,” he said. “We pulled in guys here and there, and now we’ve got a bunch of really talented guys in the band.”
The name needs a slight explanation, which could come during their Saturday set, as the band jokes they were named after the second worst president in U.S. history. They certainly aren’t honoring Harding’s role in the Teapot Dome or his vetoing the Bonus Bill.
Styles of bluegrass can be polarizing – traditionalists stick to bands that existed before 1970, while fans of the progressive dig on tradition while also loving the newgrass players and the modern bands that can make up the nations jam grass scene. The Warren G. Hardings keep a foot in both worlds.
“We all grew up playing music; none of us were ever really raised in the bluegrass tradition, but we found our way to it through some of the more modern contemporary artists,” Marowitz said. “We have a nice little balance. We’re almost maybe a little more toward the trad side than the progressive side, but I think we fit nicely right in the middle. We’re just as happy doing bluegrass standards, like playing a John Reischman tune as we are trying to do a 10-minute extended jam. It’s been fun to go down both of those paths.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at email@example.com.