Updated: Nov 30, 2019
Musicians go to Nashville to be inspired, learn new tricks. They come in from the wilderness of their self-absorbed isolation, willing to expose how much they don’t know. This is a trick for already-great musician, as they must first admit what they do not know, then force themselves to mix and mingle with the masses of various talent. And then dare to make music in the same town, the same buildings where Johnny Cash, and the Father of Bluegrass – Bill Monroe - did. They hope to learn through exposures and from fine-tuned musicality, but oft, as Bradford Lee Folk explains, are instead deeply humbled.
Folk and the Bluegrass Playboys, along with Two Bit Franks, will play the Ruby Jewel Jamboree Monday, July 7, at 7 p.m. in Missoula.
As with all artists, school is where rules and technique are drilled into you. Folk’s legendary bluegrass band, Open Road, topped all the charts. His old honky tonk Colorado bar Swing Station and the last four years he spent in Nashville have been his classroom.
As evidenced by his new band, Bluegrass Playboys (handpicked from Nashville, featuring Robert Trapp on banjo, Christian Sedelmyer on fiddle, David Goldberg on mandolin and John Fabke on upright) and its debut album “Somewhere Far Away,” Folk has broken all the confines and fit the pieces nicely around his new definition of self. Pay close attention to the intricate way he weaves the words of “Wood Swan” like strands of gossamer around the melody laid down by his incredibly talented and tight band.
Although Folk is influenced by the country blues of his father, and listens to nothing made after 1962, he is inadvertently (perhaps from his Colorado days) imbued with that distinct western brand of bluegrass. You can hear it in the cadence of the lyrics he delivers.
Folk is a beguiling story teller and charms you with every song as though it’s a story being told for the first time.
Folk is also a musician’s musician and has been handed an endless array of endorsements from the rock stars of bluegrass.
“Brad Folk can spin a lyric indeed and when he sings, he pores those lyrics right into your heart,” said Jeremy Garret of the Infamous Stringdusters Pause
“Few people inhabit the old sound like Brad Folk. When I hear his songs I feel as if a very important part of our tradition is again proving itself not only relevant but essential,” said Dave Johnston of the Yonder Mountain String Band.
“Brad Folk is one of my all-time favorite singers. Like George and Jimmy, Brad is the song. He is tremendously captivating” said Caleb Klauder of the Foghorn String Band.
“This guy is the real deal” said Woody Platt of The Steep Canyon Rangers.
John Lowell will open for Folk on July 7 with his new band, Two Bit Franks, featuring Tom Murphy on mandolin, Jeff Shouse on banjo, Russel Smith on bass, and Kevin Fabozzi on mandolin and cello.
Lowell, a Montana favorite, is a self-taught flat picker, having learned much of what he knows from attending countless picking circles and festivals. His picking is as smooth and clear as his voice, which resounds especially in the traditional troubadour style. He is accredited with singing/playing guitar with too many bands to count. The most notable are the Growling Old Men, a duo with mandolinist Ben Winship, who along with bassist Dave Thompson played Prairie Home Companion in the Missoula show, and Kane’s River, a contemporary of Folk’s Open Road.
In Montana, Lowell is involved with promotional organizing for the annual Big Sky Big Grass event. As well-connected musicians, he and Winship have become involved with various music schools, including Sore Fingers, and festivals, including Shetland Folk Fest.
Lowell and Folk have known each other quite some time, played music together and often end up at the same music festivals. Lowell has, on numerous occasions slept on Folk’s floor.
Ruby Jewel Jamboree brings premiere bluegrass to Missoula and hosts concerts throughout the summer at Ruby’s Inn on Reserve. For more information, visit Rubyjeweljamboree.com.
Read article at the Missoulean Corridor Magazine