Published: July 3, 2013
Town Mountain sticks to the accepted "rules" of the traditional bluegrass genre, except when it doesn't.
Bobby Britt, the fiddler in the Asheville, N.C. quintet, broke a big one: He wrote his own tune. The song, "Four Miles," is an Irishy upbeat bluegrass instrumental on their fourth album, "Leave the Bottle"(2012). Pop Matters, an online magazine of cultural criticism, designated it the No. 6 Best Bluegrass Album of 2012, calling it "an absolute triumph of a record."
Town Mountain plays at Front Range Barbeque on Sunday.
Britt wrote the tune as a tribute to his girlfriend's brother, who passed away before he could meet him.
"It's not a super common thing in traditional bluegrass," he says. "People just play public domain tunes - old tunes that have been around for 100 years. That tradition of playing the same tunes over and over is part of bluegrass culture. I'm breaking out of that now and trying to write my own."
That's not the only way they're breaking tradition.
"We are paying respect to the tradition of bluegrass in the style of songs we play and the sound of what we do," Britt says. "Everyone in the bluegrass world is supposed to try and do that to some degree. But what distinguishes us is a large portion of our repertoire is regional material. It's common to play old standards, like 'Sitting on Top of the World.' Those are great, I could listen to those songs over and over. They stand the test of time. But we add some new material to that already outstanding repertoire."
Does a bluegrass band get any flack from breaking out of the box?
"Not really," Britt says. "As long as you're in keeping with tradition in some way. I think bluegrass is constantly evolving, more than ever right now, and being redefined. And even if there was flack, it doesn't concern me."
Everybody knows everybody in the North Carolina bluegrass scene, Britt says, and Town Mountain got together in 2005 as a result of those loose friendships. It didn't hurt that they all liked the same music: The Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe and The Grateful Dead.
The rest of the band is Phil Barker, Robert Greer, Jesse Langlais and Jake Hopping.
"I think our personalities really mesh," Britt says. "We're fun-loving, easygoing, and we're all in the same vein stylistically about what we like to hear musically."
Britt's mother made her son play the violin from an early age, he says. He switched to the fiddle around 12, and remembers being invited to play for a group of cloggers at an old-time dance.
"That was the start of my American bluegrass old-time trajectory," he says. "I was about 16 when bluegrass got cool. I definitely wasn't cool, and I wasn't into it at the time, but, slowly, I started to fall in love with it. I felt lucky. Finally this skill I have is going to be useful."
Like many bluegrass musicians, Britt credits the 2000 film, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," and its old-timey soundtrack with giving the genre a huge boost.
"George Clooney's star power made it popular," Britt says. "But aside from all the fluctuations in popularity, the music is so pure and it talks about simple issues that will be as relevant to me as they were 100 years ago. It's about love and love lost and having the blues from having to work and not making any money. The musicality and virtuosity and being a master of your instrument and your voice adds a lot of legitimacy to the genre."
Jennifer Mulson can be reached at 636-0270.
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Front Range Barbeque, 2330 W. Colorado Ave.
Tickets: Free; 632-2596, frbbq.com