published Friday, October 5th, 2012

Progressive, traditional bluegrass acts converge on waterfront

IF YOU GO

What: 3 Sisters Music Festival.

When: 6-11 p.m. today, noon-10 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Ross’s Landing, 100 Riverfront Parkway.

Admission: Free.

Phone: 265-0771.

Website: www.3sistersbluegrass.com.

SCHEDULE

Today

• 6 p.m. Dismembered Tennesseans

• 6:50 p.m. Dailey & Vincent

• 8:10 p.m. Blue Highway

• 9:30 p.m. Yonder Mountain String Band

Saturday

• Noon. Bluetastic Fangrass

• 1 p.m. Lone Mountain Band

• 2 p.m. Dismembered Tennesseans

• 3 p.m. Berklee College of Music Fiddlers

• 4 p.m. Della Mae

• 5:30 p.m. Keller & The Keels

• 7 p.m. Steep Canyon Rangers

• 8:30 p.m. The Travelin’ McCourys

Yonder Mountain String Band is one of bluegrass music’s most nimble bands when it comes to dodging stylistic categorization.

At times, Yonder Mountain clings to the musical traditions as set forth by Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs. Sometimes, however, its members take on a more jam band-like, improvisational approach that references their love of artists such as Dave Grisman, Phish and The Grateful Dead.

As a matter of course, founder and banjo player Dave Johnston said, the band prefers to do what the audience least expects.

At jam-band festivals, that means playing closer to the traditional mainline. For bluegrass gigs, such as their headlining slot at the 3 Sisters Music Festival tonight, the set lists tend to meander a little more.

“For the most part ... we thought [doing the unexpected] would be a good palate cleanser for the ears,” Johnston said. “You’re going to stand out more [by doing that], and that’s what we’re inclined to do.”

That flexible approach to the genre was relatively uncommon in 1998 when the band was founded and bluegrass had yet to be catapulted into the spotlight via its prominent use in 2000’s “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

At the time, Yonder Mountain was viewed by many as part of the second wave of progressive acts in the genre following pioneering artists such as Newgrass Revival and John Hartford, who had, Johnston said, a great deal of influence on him.

Within two years of its founding, the band graduated from playing local club gigs to high-profile shows at venues such as Fillmore West in San Francisco. Since then, the musicians have performed at some of the country’s premiere festivals, including Red Rocks and Bonnaroo.

Fifteen years later, the band has attained a degree of popularity Johnston said he never would have expected. And as the band gears up to record its first studio album in three years later this year, the pendulum is continuing its upward swing.

“We’re infinitely more successful than I thought we could be,” he said. “We have good momentum right now; we have good things happening. We’re in a reaffirmation of our musical purpose.

“Everything is pretty awesome right now.”

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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