Front Country bids the Bay farewell to settle in Nashville
Melody Walker, the lead vocalist of the San Francisco Bay Area’s rising star in bluegrass known as Front Country, has been totally shaped by the San Francisco Bay Area — a place she has always lived and called home.
“We’ve been on tour basically since the start of the summer,” Walker tells me. “We’ve been, ah, houseless, most of us, and sort of in a transition-on-tour.”
We’re sitting backstage at the Great American Music Hall. Front Country has time only to swing through the Bay Area one last time, with no extended visits or over-drawn farewells, before finally settling in the band’s new home base of Nashville.
“I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and I went to college up at Humboldt State, five hours north,” she tells me. “I’m a real NorCal gal at heart, so this is kind of a big deal to me.”
Front Country had previously announced the news of the move to Nashville via their social media, and the majority of friends and family in the audience were supportive and proud to see the band taking their act to Music City, USA.
When I asked Walker about the decision, she said it was a pretty easy one.
“Well the main reasons that we’re moving there are that it’s cheaper, it’s centrally located, and optimized for touring — it’s so easy to get everywhere and we tour so much it was getting to be that we were never home on the West Coast…So we kind of realized we needed to be central, and then the other reason is that all of our friends live there. I mean we have friends in the Bay Area, obviously, but there are all of these kindred musical spirits of the road that live there. For live music, professional musicians flock there….there’s something really romantic for me, you know, being a professional musician, to live in a place where that’s the norm; where most people are involved in the music industry.”
The music industry is changing, though. The corporate suits aren’t out of the equation yet, but let’s be real, they aren’t the ones setting up Greensky Bluegrass up to sell out Red Rocks — it’s that community and good old-fashioned word-of-mouth that is stoking the fire under innovative string bands.
“A lot of people probably didn’t have such an open mind about, on a big level, selling bluegrass shows. Like, I don’t think anyone could have conceived of Greensky Bluegrass and what level they’re playing, or Yonder
‘New Roots Revival’ is an interesting title, because as Walker and Groopman have been asserting, the music they make is, for want of a less repetitive phrase, hardly strictly “bluegrass.” Sweetwater calls themselves “soul-grass,” while Crow and The Canyon lean on their individual bluegrass-less backgrounds to create a new sound that is entrenched in the roots of the modern Americana melting pot.
Groopman went on to discuss the cycles of how bluegrass has existed in the American conciousness. Flatt and Scruggs had number one hits on the radio and played with hippie bands at The Fillmore, and the fast-pickin’ banjo sounds simmered until O Brother Where Art Thou? reignited the fever in the early 2000s, “and now we’re seeing more of a settling and assimilating of bluegrass into nearby genres and it’s more popular with a wider audience than ever before.” Groopman also drew parallels between the rabid fan bases of jam bands like The Grateful Dead and, in more recent history, Phish.
Speaking of wider audiences, Greensky Bluegrass have not only helped pave the way for Front Country’s ascension to a larger stage, but they are taking the band under their wing and featuring Front Country as the main supporting act for their winter tour around the Southeast and Midwest. “We were planning on taking all of January off and just chilling out,” Walker said. “But it just kind of came up.”
Instead, Front Country will join the first two weeks of tour, kicking off January 11 in Cleveland, OH and playing their final show of the run on January 24 in Charlottesville, VA. The band agrees that they’d be hard pressed to find another seamless introduction to their new home market than as the hot new band that opened for Greensky, and that goes back to the organic drive that is pushing the genre today.
“It’s always been a thing,” insists Walker. “The idea of the bluegrass festival has been around for a couple generations now. Carlton Haney, the guy who invented the bluegrass festival, used to say it’s the place where the longhairs and the shorthairs come together, and it’s so true!”
Whatever the genesis the genre, there is no question that a true revival of Americana roots music is in progress, and per usual, the Bay Area has a band with its foot in the door, ready to take the scene by storm. We wrap the interview so I can catch Crow and The Canyon and witness the revival for myself.
Michigan grown, California cured. From punk to roots to indie to funk, progressive, ambient and poppy, music has been indispensable in his life and taking part in creating, receiving and sharing in the entire process has come second nature to Joshua. He works closely with musicians across the country and in his current city of Santa Cruz.
Check out his work here with The Bay Bridged as well as Relix, Live For Live Music, Grateful Web and Glide Magazine.