by Kirsten Cohen Photography

“We’re Having A Blast” – Trout Steak Revival

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Yonder Mountain String Band

There is a lot of good grass coming out of Colorado and Trout Steak Revival is among the young bands doing its part to cultivate a new sound while staying true to the roots. The Denver-based five-piece is part of the generation of young bluegrass pickers carrying on the bluegrass tradition of the music.  They are on the road with Yonder Mountain String Band, stopping Feb 9 at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall to play some old stuff, test out some new stuff that hasn’t even been recorded yet and as always, sprinkle in a cover or too.

“It’s pretty exciting. We’re just starting our third week,” upright bassist Casey Houlihan says from the road. “We started last night in Tuscaloosa and we’re on our way to Pensacola tonight. We’ve just been having a blast playing shows with those guys.”

Houlihan is having a blast traveling and performing alongside the band with whom he credits for awakening his appreciation for bluegrass music. Yonder Mountain String Band is considered an integral part of the Colorado culture and instrumental in the resurgence of bluegrass on the Front Range.

“It seems to me that a lot of people are moving to the Front Range of Colorado to start bands in this genre and I know Yonder Mountain is very influential part of that movement,” he says. For me personally, I give a lot of credit to Yonder Mountain String Band because they were the first bluegrass band that I saw in 2001 when I was a freshman in college. My friends took me to the show and said ‘you gotta check this out’. They were a young, hot band from Colorado and I thought ‘holy cow, I like it’. So I immediately started to kind of work backwards and explore bluegrass and the rich history of some very talented, virtuosic pickers. It’s a really exciting style of music to see live, to listen to. There are a lot of options and that’s what makes it exciting.”

The upright bass is a far cry from the trombone and brass instruments Houlihan played growing up in concert bands. Once he picked up the guitar and honed his playing in college, moving to Colorado and on to the upright bass was a natural progression. Houlihan graduated from college in 2004 and moved from Minnesota to Denver to explore the bluegrass culture.

One element often shared by bluegrass contingency is the hybrid hipster-mountain beard, a feature Houlihan intentionally avoided. On the band’s website, he is as all-American as apple pie moonshine. “It’s funny because in all of our press photos I’m clean shaven but I do have a pretty full beard right now,” he laughs. “I even told all my bandmates that I was never going to grown another beard but then winter hit. Maybe I’ll shave before the show.”

He joined forces with Travis McNamara on banjo, Steve Foltz on mandolin and guitar, Will Koster playing dobro and guitar and Bevin Foley on fiddle to form Trout Steak Revival. From club venues to mountain festivals, the five-piece has shown the tenacity for stylish picking and polish while maintaining the raw feeling of authentic bluegrass. The band has earned a place in the mountain states roots scene, performing to sold-out audiences and winning an Emmy Award for a soundtrack with Rocky Mountain PBS.

“I think we know that we have different sound and I think we’re intentionally figuring our how to hone in on that sound,” says Houlihan. “We’re not saying we don’t want to sound like this or that, I think our voices and our abilities set us apart. We all have our own styles but when we all combine them, it’s like the Trout Steak sound.”

In 2014, Trout Steak Revival earned the top honors at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. “It’s pretty cool jumping off point,” says Houlihan. “A lot of the bands who have won in the past have gone on to do great things so it’s kind of a seal of approval from the world of bluegrass, saying ‘hey, you have our blessing” because there are a lot of great bands that enter that competition. We were lucky enough to perform well and be really comfortable. We’d been a band at the time for 6 or 7 years so we were in a good spot to play our best and we did.”

The band’s latest release “Brighter Every Day” is sunny and light when juxtaposed against many of the dark, lonesome themes often found in traditional bluegrass songs. “The overall vibe is really positive. It’s not like this lonesome, longing for home album which tends to come historically with bluegrass. It’s not about killing your woman. We don’t really write songs like that,” says Houlihan. “We write songs about personal experiences that are very song-based. I wouldn’t categorize us as a jam band although we tend to strip songs down in a live setting but the album doesn’t really reflect that. We pride our selves on harmonies and we work well together and share the workload. If you listen to the album, you going to hear five different people and that’s kind of how our show is, too.”

About Liza Mitchell