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A.J. Lee and Blue Summit happy to play music

A.J. Lee’s foray into bluegrass music started with her mom and a pizza place. Her mom was a big fan of country music as well as a vocalist, playing out now and then while also coming up with fun vocal games for a young A.J. to play in the car.

Being around that much music sent A.J. Lee down the professional music path, as she now plays mandolin and leads her band Blue Summit, playing club and festival dates around the country.

A.J. Lee and Blue Summit will perform Tuesday at Animas City Theatre. Opening the show is local bluegrass band La La Bones.

It’s an apple and a distance from the tree type of thing.

“She would play around, just fun little configurations with her friends, playing open mics, maybe do some gigs now and then, and I was always brought to the gigs, and she taught me how to sing as soon as I could,” Lee said. “We went to this pizzeria that had an open mic when I was about 4 years old and we sang a song together, and the director for a kids on stage program for the California Bluegrass Association happened to be there, and he was like, ‘Hey, you should come to this bluegrass festival.’ We went, and the rest is history.”

If you go

WHAT: Bluegrass with A.J. Lee and Blue Summit and local band La La Bones.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday.

WHERE: Animas City Theatre, 128 E. College Drive.


MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.animascitytheatre.com.

Fast forward to 2024, and Lee, along with her band, are hitting it hard, playing their brand of American bluegrass music. That “brand” is a little bit of everything from the bluegrass world. Her home state of California has always had a hot bluegrass scene, dating back to Jerry Garcia’s and David Grisman’s more traditional bluegrass band Old & in the Way to the jazz-influenced acoustic music Grisman is known for. Lee is writing music that’s partial to all but committing to none.

“I feel like the California scene has a lot going on, like a lot of different things, at least a lot of knowledge about the traditional side, so we have tended to lean a little bit more of that way. We’re not sticklers to playing a specific genre, it’s not like we’re saying you only need to play how it was played in the ’50s, but we sprinkle in a little bit more progressive here and there, and I think especially with the original material,” she said. “But I think my original material tends to be maybe a little more Americana, maybe more indie-bluegrass sounding, so its an interesting blend the way that we were brought up playing bluegrass. It’s a nice mix for everyone who’s into bluegrass.”

That mix is heard throughout her last record, 2021’s “I’ll Come Back,” where a cut like “Lemons and Tangerines” have a heavy, soulful feel, to “Faithful,” a fiddle-driven song that would be given the nod of approval from Bill Monroe himself. Then there’s a cut like “Rodney Dangerfield,” a hard-driving and high energy instrumental cut appealing to the progressive, twirling audience that dig on the exploratory, jam-grass thing.

It’s certainly appealing to the vast and diverse fans of acoustic music, from the festivalgoers ready for a multiday event, to the music lovers that dig on a more intimate, club appearance. Lee and band dig on both types of stages, as they hit small venues like Animas City Theatre through the colder months, and then larger stages like the one in Telluride’s Town Park, where they’ll perform at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival this summer.

Lee and band are just happy to play music.

“We’re just having a blast being able to do what we do,” she said. “And we just love doing it.”

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at liggett_b@fortlewis.edu.