Sometimes, you just have to play some bluegrass music.
Musicians like bass player Greg Garrison, banjo player Noam Pikelny, guitar player Chris “Critter” Eldridge, mandolin player Andrew Marlin and fiddle player Alex Hargreaves were reared on the genre, but their full-time musical gigs aren’t full-blown bluegrass bands, some not even close. Garrison plays polyethnic Cajun slam-grass in Leftover Salmon; Pikelny and Eldridge play progressive string band music in Punch Brothers; Marlin plays roots-folk in Watchhouse; and Hargreaves dips into classical, world and jam in various groups. Together, they are Mighty Poplar, a quintet that came together pre-pandemic solely to play bluegrass.
Mighty Poplar will perform at this weekend’s Tico Time Bluegrass Festival, currently underway and rolling through Sunday at Tico Time Resort just south of Durango at the state line. Performing also are The Travelin’ McCourys, who close the event out Sunday; The Kyle Hollingsworth Band who play tonight (May 12); and a load of local and regional acts.
Mighty Poplar was the brainchild of Garrison, who when not on stage teaches music at University of Colorado Denver. After forming in 2020, they immediately hit the studio, but people aren’t getting a taste of them live until now.
“Mighty Poplar grew out of a need or desire for all of us in the band to just want to play a little bit of bluegrass,” Garrison said. “The music was easy; the logistics were difficult. Why we sat on it until now was to get everybody’s schedules together; balancing Punch Brothers, Leftover Salmon and Watchouse, those three schedules to find a couple holes where everybody would be available, and we could promote the album and do what we wanted to and create a new band. That’s where we’re at.”
If you go
WHAT: Tico Time Bluegrass Festival.
WHEN: Through Sunday.
WHERE: Tico Time Resort, 20 Road 2050, Aztec.
TICKETS: Friday- or Saturday-only tickets $75, Sunday only $65. Weekend pass $209, camping and parking extra.
MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.ticotimebluegrassfest.com or call 903-0681.
They formed solely in the spirit of playing music with friends. They are inspired by groups of musicians who have musical relationships on stage, and friendships off stage – musicians like Tony Rice and J.D. Crowe, who formed The Bluegrass Album Band; or Sam Bush, Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer, who fans have seen come together around the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Mighty Poplar is similar, as these are dudes who met and formed personal and musical bonds and friendships through bluegrass. When Garrison put the band together, he just rolled down a list of musical pals who would be ripe and right for the band.
“I think any wish list always starts with those immediate friends, the people where you’re like, ‘man, I haven’t done anything with Noam in a long time, I really would like to get back into playing bluegrass with him.’ The same with Critter,” he said. “That’s literally the process, dreaming it up and thinking about how the music is going to mesh, how the personalities are going to mesh and how the hang is going to be in addition to the music. And we stumbled, upon, I wouldn’t even say stumbled, but I dreamt up a pretty amazing crew for this project.”
This band is a collection of solid professionals who know the bluegrass language, so they will be dipping into original music, while also pulling songs from a vast catalog of bluegrass, roots and Americana music. But they’re also a new band, so fans will be watching them gel show by show. Despite that newness, their resumes are a what’s what of the festival world, so it will surely be top notch in addition to loose and casual.
“Tico Time is like the fourth or fifth show,” Garrison said. “So, we’re going to be learning as we go and figuring out what we’re doing up there.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.