Putting together a list of ten of the best bluegrass bands in the metro Denver area is a tall order, because there are so many, and so many worthy of distinction. Alas, dear readers, lists of this type are always going to be subjective. To keep things interesting, when we delved into the world of this most American of genres, we decided to include newgrass bands and "bluegrass blends" along with the traditional. Feel free to leave comments telling us what we missed, but bear in mind that there is some crossover with our recent jam bands list.
10. Blue Canyon Boys
Winners of the 2008 Telluride Bluegrass Festival band competition, these boys are one of the hardest-working bands in the region. Week after week, the group can be found playing at some bar, club or brewery, usually in Denver or the surrounding area. With boundless energy and sweet harmonies, these guys are well worth checking out.
9. Bonnie & the Beard
Blending bluegrass with gypsy rock, Bonnie & the Beard might not be traditional, by any stretch of the imagination, but the spirit of old-timey American music is present and correct. You could call it seasoned, or enhanced, bluegrass. The duo, which includes a woman named Bonnie and a dude with a beard, make glorious music.
8. Coral Creek
Led by songwriter/guitarist Chris Thompson, Coral Creek was recently blessed with the addition of keyboard player Bill McKay of Leftover Salmon and the Derek Trucks Band, plus Grammy-winning fiddle player Luke Bulla. That’s quite the lineup the band has now, and it was great to begin with, skirting the line between jam band and bluegrass.
7. Crowhill Bluegrass Band
A group of friends who came together at Swallow Hill Music while learning about bluegrass from veteran Martin Gilmore, the guys couldn’t stop playing together, so they didn’t. Now they’re a real band but, unlike Pinocchio, they’ve got plenty of strings.
6. Free the Honey
This Gunnison trio is a bit special, blending bluegrass with gospel, blues, gypsy and jazz. Jenny Hill, Lizzy Plotkin and Katherine Taylor make a staggeringly beautiful noise, recorded perfectly on the Fine Bloom debut album that came out in 2015.
5. Highland Ramblers
Formed in 2008, this traditional troupe plays a mixture of standards and originals (as is the norm for bluegrass bands), and the players refer to their music as “boot-stomping bluegrass Americana,” which is quite a fair description. You listen, you stomp your boots. Simple as.
There’s something special that happens when young bluegrass bands interpret traditional tunes. The energy brings something old and dusty back from the musical grave, especially when performed as proficiently and enthusiastically as they are by Masontown. The band offers an exciting take on what may seem played out, and that’s a thrill.
Denver band Oakhurst is quite proud of its new album, Barrel, partly because it was recorded in Nashville with producer Joe Pisapia of KD Lang and Ben Folds 5 fame. But these guys don’t need anybody else’s star power. They write great songs, they’re excellent musicians, and their harmonies are superb.
2. Mollie O'Brien
Yep, we have a Grammy winner in our midst. Mollie O’Brien may be from West Virginia, but she lives in Denver now, and she’s a bona fide bluegrass great. She’s perhaps best known for her collaborations, either with her brother Tim O’Brien or her husband, Rich Moore. But she can more than hold her own while performing solo, and she has the voice of an angel.
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1. Thunder & Rain
Formed in 2014 in Golden, Thunder & Rain is one of the youngest bands on this list, but the group makes it in on merit. The same year that the musicians came together, they recorded debut album Holler Out with the help of a fan-funded Kickstarter campaign. While Thunder & Rain has a trad side, there are pop elements to the band's songs that make them appealing to both old-school bluegrass shitkickers and people who just love great melodies.