Tyler Grant looks like a thin, shaggy Chuck Norris holding a Telecaster. The 41-year-old jamgrass flatpicker, whose music drips with rootsy authenticity, has been around guitars since he was growing up in California in the ’80s and ’90s.
“I remember my dad strumming songs by Elvis and Johnny Cash,” he says.
When he was in his twenties, around 2003, Grant moved to Tennessee, where he started rising in the Nashville bluegrass scene. He jammed with the likes of Tim O’Brien, Béla Fleck and David Grier. When fellow musicians would ask him where he came from, he would crack a joke. “I’d tell people I’m from the Deep South,” he says, chuckling. “The deep south of California, that is.”
It’s true — he’s not a city kid. Four generations of his family lived on a small farm east of San Diego, where they tended to citrus trees and rode horses. Grant was raised in an old adobe house that his great-grandparents built in 1940 as their retirement home.
The California country boy made good and graduated from college with a degree in guitar performance. He played in a few jam bands on the coast and went to twenty Grateful Dead shows before singer and guitarist Jerry Garcia died in 1995.
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“I had started out playing in rock and reggae bands around the beaches of San Diego, but at one point, I really began to get into country and bluegrass through my dad and from listening to all the great music in his collection,” Grant says. “I realized that I had bits of bluegrass in my foundation. Eventually, I got fully sold on that sound through being a Deadhead and listening to [’70s bluegrass supergroup] Old and In the Way. It brought me back to that acoustic feel that I really loved.”
Grant had stumbled onto his professional path. “Flatpicking was a rabbit hole that took me all the way to Nashville and laid out the stepping stones of my career,” he says.
He toured with acclaimed bluegrass artists including Abigail Washburn and Adrienne Young during his first few years in Music City. After spending a couple years in the Drew Emmitt Band, in 2007 Grant became a founding member of the Emmitt-Nershi Band, which brought together Emmitt, of Leftover Salmon, and the String Cheese Incident’s Bill Nershi. Grant’s stint supporting the well-loved jamgrassers earned him Colorado fans.
In 2008 he won the prestigious national flatpicking championship in Winfield, Kansas. But while his career was booming, he wanted to be doing his own thing, not just supporting other artists’ visions.
“I was at the point where I was going to either stay in Nashville and work really hard at pursuing the session scene there, or move to Colorado and become an artist.”
He opted for the latter, relocating to the foothills of Lyons for a few years before settling in Fort Collins, where, at the age of 35, he began fronting his own project, Grant Farm.
“It was a little bit of a late start to pursue my own thing, and the band is still paying dues,” he says. “But I wanted to forge my own career and not be a sideman.”
Grant Farm now plays roughly 100 shows a year, aiming to build its fan base around Denver and the West.
“We tour all over the country, and we’re focusing on building up our following everywhere we go,” he says. “But the Denver area is kind of the epicenter of the national scene these days, and we’re focusing on the West more. It works out well for us. I’m more of a West Coast guy anyway, so this keeps me closer to home,” he says.
Although Grant earned his stripes performing mostly traditional-sounding acoustic-based fare, Grant Farm plays with more of a jam-band-meets-honky-tonk ethos.
Grant says the group’s sound has been influenced by rock and roll, and while the act started out playing acoustic instruments, he ditched his acoustic guitar for an electric one.
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“People are so used to Colorado jamgrass bands that they don’t know what to make of us,” Grant says. “I think we’re filling a gap in the scene.”
Instead of there being a lead voice or songwriter, the musicians in the act work as a collective; everybody participates in every step of the process.
“I thought there were too many bluegrass-oriented groups and not enough doing what we do,” Grant says. “There’s a set trajectory for bluegrass bands that is easier, but we’re taking the road less traveled.”
Grant Farm, with the String Cheese Incident, 5 p.m. Sunday, July 23, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, $33-$55, 720-865-2494.