Punch Brothers' Chris Thile Awarded MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’

It seems only fair to say that most creative individuals would love the opportunity to pursue their passions and add to the creative circuit in one way or another, particularly without the worry of tight funds. Enter: The MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.

This five-year grant offers extraordinarily talented individuals $500,000 to pursue their goals and passions with no strings attached. Who better to receive this prestigious grant than Punch Brothers mandolin player, Chris Thile.

After ignoring the foundation’s attempts to contact him by phone, believing them to be automated election-year calls, Thile eventually got wind of their true nature.

“I’ve never felt so internally warm, Thile told the AP. My heart was racing. All of a sudden, I felt very askew physically. I was trying to catch my breath. . . . I thought, ‘Oh my God, did I win a MacArthur?'”

He had. After finding success with Nickel Creek, Thile then assembled the Punch Brothers in 2006, finding success, and now prestige once more. So what are his plans for the money? Thile has said he may use the grant to fund a chamber music project for a bluegrass quintet.

You can find the talented winner on tour with the Punch Brothers through December.


Exclusive Q and A: Elaine Roy of The Roys Looks Ahead to a "New Day Dawning."

It’s difficult to believe that the latest recording by The Roys, New Day Dawning, is only the siblings’ sophomore effort for Rural Rhythm Records.

The brother and sister who embraced bluegrass as elementary school children in New England have such a solid, signature sound ” in the style of their idols including Bill Monroe and Ricky Skaggs ” that it feels as if they have always been part of the bluegrass community. Perhaps that’s because the music of the reigning Inspirational Country Music Bluegrass Artists of the Year is a true staple on radio, in concerts, and during high-profile events including the PBS television special Pa’s Fiddle and on such television shows as Fox & Friends.

Now Elaine and Lee Roy are again candidates for nominations in ICM award categories ” this time for Entertainers of the Year, Vocal Duo, and Inspirational Bluegrass Artist. As if that isn’t enough, the duo are ready to release their next recording this month. Elaine Roy took time out of her hectic schedule to chat about the duo’s music, album, and fans.

OS: New Day Dawning is a great title for your album. How did you come up with that title?

ER: I don’t even know who came up with the idea. We started talking and somebody said “New Day Dawning” and we wanted to write it as a song. There’s such negativity in the world so when it came time to name the album we thought it was the perfect title of the album.

OS: Well, I have to ask if it also signifies a new day or turning point for The Roys.

ER: We hope it’s a turning point! We’ve struggled long and hard to get where we are today. We are really grateful for all that has happened to us and we look forward to a new day dawning and great things ahead.

OS: Now this recording isn’t a full album. Why is that?

ER: Right, it’s seven tracks. I think for us it was trying to turn out more music quicker for the fans. When you record a complete album, that’s a very long process. We just wanted to get music out there for our fans.


Your Country's Right Here: The David Mayfield Parade Poised for the Big Time

David Mayfield needs to come with a warning label.

Anyone who has attended one of this season’s music festivals and been lulled into the mind-numbing sameness of some performers will want to buckle up before Mayfield blasts onto the stage. Not only is his music a high-powered, joyous Americana with a dollop of rock, but Mayfield’s bouncing enthusiasm”jumping into the crowd, prodding them to join him in song”is beyond infectious. Think a Jack Black persona with first-rate Americana folk rock and you’re on the right track. Perhaps that’s why Mayfield is about the only person who may be surprised at his success, which includes recently raising double the cash he sought to fund his next album.

“I had no idea the first one would be so well received,” said Mayfield of his first album. “I’ve had lots of fans tell me that they proposed while listening to “Breathe of Love” or walked down the aisle while it was playing. I feel like it’s almost out of my hands now. I talked to [the Avett Brothers’] Seth Avett and he told me at some point, you will write something from a personal place and people will relate to it and it will become theirs, too.”

In a way, Mayfield has become part of the Avett success story, as well. It was the Avett Brothers”Scott and Seth”who “discovered” him when he was touring as the bassist for his sister Jessica Lea Mayfield. Soon Mayfield, who also wrote songs for Cadillac Sky, was sitting in with the Avetts at Bonnaroo and Merlefest. Not that the musical path has been completely smooth even for Mayfield, who was born into such a musical family and has found support among A-list musicians.

One reason Mayfield calls his group a “Parade” is that players tend to come and go. Sure everyone wants to play at such high-profile gigs as DelFest, which Mayfield and his players did after accepting a personal invitation from bluegrass great Del McCoury, but when the bar gigs roll around some players tend to drop out. But that doesn’t stem Mayfield’s enthusiasm in writing and performing his original songs not to mention an occasional cover or sitting in with Luther Dickinson or other A-list performers.


Chasing Blue Snags A Year's Worth Of Ernie Ball Strings

Few bands can appreciate the value of a year’s worth of free strings like a bluegrass band. For groups that contain banjos, fiddles, mandolins, upright basses, and guitars, re-stringing the entire band before gigs can be tiring and expensive.  That is, unless you’re Chasing Blue. The Boston-based bluegrass group just scored an entire year’s worth of free Ernie Ball strings. Check out their melancholy tune “Bad Water,” which beat out the competition in the Alternative Country Channel to land them the prize. Congrats, guys! Just remember: you still need to do the actual stringing yourselves.

Your Country's Right Here: Del McCoury Puts the Spirit Back in Country

Bluegrass legend Del McCoury gives me hope that I can be redeemed musically, even if I still have a lot of work to do to reach that state.

Let me note that it’s probably not cool to use myself as an example, but I’m guessing that a lot of folks wonder if the musical joy they experienced as kids can be recaptured. After attending this year’s DelFest during Memorial Day in Cumberland, Md., I have to believe it can.

I had originally intended to let Del McCoury tell you about DelFest, that just wrapped up its fifth season and is busting at the seams with attendees (the area’s local newspaper reports expansion plans are underway). We’ll let you hear from Del, of course, but after reading the non-stop CMA Fest coverage, the Bonnaroo dispatches, and the excellent Kindle single “The Same Coachella Twice” by Sean Howell, I thought some personal perspective might be useful, too.

Let’s start with some background about McCoury, who was a legend before the title was handed out like flyers advertising a tent sale. McCoury was first the banjo player, then lead singer and rhythm guitarist for Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys. We could go on and on about his career, which he put on hold for more than a decade so he could be close to home and help raise his family. Highlights include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Endowment of the Arts, membership in both the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ol’ Opry, and that’s just for starters. You likely get the point.

Or part of it.

The real point is that although he’s a hero to many musicians”Bruce Springsteen, Jon Fishman of Phish, Paul Stanley of KISS”he has never chased musical trends. And from what musicians tell me, McCoury never held those who did in contempt. Instead, he takes enjoyment and inspiration from all music, including that which he wouldn’t play.


Exclusive Q and A: Steep Canyon Rangers' Woody Platt Talks Steve Martin, DelFest, and Just Where Bluegrass is Headed

OurStage Exclusive InterviewsSteep Canyon Rangers have always been a much-loved bluegrass band, but this past year has taken it to new heights.

The band’s 2011 album with Steve Martin Rare Bird Alert went to No. 1 on Billboard’s Bluegrass Chart and won a GRAMMY Award nomination. The band’s 2010 album Deep in the Shade stayed in Billboard’s Top 10 Bluegrass chart for eighteen weeks. Headlining gigs at MerleFest, Bonaroo and other high profile events have followed.

Now the band is set to join with Martin again when it co-headlines DelFest, named for founder and bluegrass legend Del McCoury, the annual bluegrass extravaganza on Memorial Day Weekend in Cumberland, Maryland.

Although other events with Martin will follow, the band’s main focus this year is touring behind its just-released album Nobody Knows You.

Steep Canyon Rangers guitarist and lead vocalist Woody Platt took time out of his jam-packed schedule to talk to OurStage about the past year and just where Steep Canyon Rangers is headed in the near future.

OS: It had to be great working with Steve Martin and playing all the high profile events you’ve done in the past year or so. How did you work in a new record, too?

WP: We had great success with Steve and we wanted to follow that up with a solo record from us. The exposure we got through Steve was great but we also want to work on just our own music. When we’re traveling, we are usually out ten to twelve days in a row and sound check isn’t until about 4:30 so we had some time [to write, demo and otherwise develop the album]. We worked very hard on it last year. Charles [R. Humphrey III, the bassist) and Graham [Sharp, the banjo player] are very, very serious about songwriting and very good at it, so they worked on [the new songs] all the time.