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The Center for the Arts OnTheGo Presents Front Country with Brett Shady opening
Saturday, February 2nd, 2019 8:00 PM Grass Valley Elks Lodge
An acoustic band born in the land of tech innovation, Front Country was never going to be accepted as an authentic American roots band out of the gate. Cutting their teeth in progressive bluegrass jams in San Francisco’s Mission District and rehearsing in the East Bay, they learned to play roots music their own way, with the tools they had on hand. A mandolinist with a degree in composition and classical guitar. A guitarist trained in rock and world music. A bassist equally versed in jazz and bluegrass. A violinist with technique that could seamlessly hop between honky tonk and electropop. A female lead singer with grit and soul that was also a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter. In a wood-paneled country dive bar in the shadow of the San Francisco skyline, Front Country forged a sound hell bent on merging the musical past with the future.
This West Coast outfit was just a group of friends playing a monthly gig until 2012 and 2013 when Front Country gathered around a single microphone at the RockyGrass and Telluride festivals, and won first prize in those prestigious band contests that once launched the careers of the Dixie Chicks, Greensky Bluegrass and the Steep Canyon Rangers. The contest wins bolstered their confidence in their unique mix of original songwriting, vocal harmonies and instrumental virtuosity, steeling their resolve to take a leap of faith and become a full time touring band.
With the release of their debut full-length album Sake of the Sound in 2014, Front Country began the nose-grinding work of making their name as a national touring act. Still based in the San Francisco Bay Area, they would trek the 6,000+ mile circle around the U.S. for months at a time, introducing themselves for the first time to every room that would have them. Thanks to the glow of their contest wins, festivals around the U.S. caught wind and invited them to play for their large audiences, giving Front Country a crucial first break. Old Settlers in Austin, MerleFest in North Carolina, Wintergrass in Seattle, Strawberry in California and Grey Fox in New York, all took a chance on the promising new band and solidified Front Country’s hold on the imagination of progressive-leaning acoustic music fans.
The band includes Melody Walker, Jacob Groopman, Adam Roszkiewicz, Leif Karlstrom and Jeremy Darrow.
“In the bluegrass world, musicians tend to define themselves by their tradition and discipline. But Front Country is defined by its no-rules approach.” – NPR Music
“Lead singer and songwriter for progressive bluegrass band Front Country, Melody Walker is an outspoken force.” – Paste
“Other Love Songs is Front Country’s Roots Pop opus, and promises to be the band’s most intensely creative and original project to date. The songs are emotional in nature and examine love with a self-aware twist.” – Live for Live Music
“Fans of modern acoustic music will find much to enjoy in their more experimental approach within the traditional bluegrass quintet.” – Bluegrass Today
“…punchy bluegrass-tinged pop…” – Live for Live Music
“With Influences ranging from Bluegrass to Classic Rock to Modern Country, Front Country refuses to conform to the genre standards” – IBMA
“One of the best up-and-coming progressive and forward-thinking bluegrass bands on the rise is Front Country” – Arizona Daily Sun
“ There are several young bands on the Americana scene today who are pushing the progressive boundaries of bluegrass style while keeping their roots in the traditional sounds they’ve harvested from around the country. Front Country is one of the best at that, and Other Love Songs makes the case for why they don’t have many equals.” – Twangville
“…irresistibly listenable and relatable.” – The Boot
“Front Country and its principals never attempted to fit into a tidy box neatly labeled ‘bluegrass.’” – The Lonesome Road Review
“This quintet has been called “passionately intoxicating” and “orchestral,” and Melody’s bluesy vocals have been described as “rafter-shaking.” – Yes Weekly
“The album is about as forward-thinking as acoustic music gets” – Nashville Scene
“They aren’t 100% sure what they’re making – they’re just focusing on making good, unique music that they want to make. Not everything has to be a cookie-cutter genre-filler” – Sonically Awkward
“What Front Country has shown with “Other Love Songs” is that it is willing to look at traditional instruments and approach them from a whole new perspective for a whole new sound” – Tahoe On Stage UK REVIEWS
“Soulful, gritty and determined, Melody Walker lives up to her name with some of her finest songs to date.” – Northern Sky Magazine UK
“To say the playing is virtuosic is an understatement! Given that their command of the instruments they play is so exceptional that it’s difficult to visualize anything in roots music that this band couldn’t master.” – American Roots UK
Brett Shady is a singer/songwriter based out of Nevada City, California. His unique personal form of Americana blends waltzing country, folk strumming, pop melodies, 50s balladry & indie-pop and has led to his sharing the stage with the likes of Chris Isaak & Jeff Bridges while playing and contributing with notable independent artists including Little Wings & Golden Shoulders.
Shady began writing his own songs after years of singing for various pop and punk bands for most of his teens and 20s. He grew up around Grass Valley, California and became involved in music just after high school. “I was all over the place, musically,” Shady says, “My childhood was spent listening mostly to 50s & 60s compilation cassettes I would buy at K-Mart. The artists that stuck out to me when I was a kid were Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, the Fleetwoods, stuff like that. Very poppy, melodic.”
After high school, he studied opera for five years. Shady adds, “that was just about the time I was discovering punk. I would be singing Italian arias and then get in my car and scream along to Minor Threat. I guess it was kind of a weird mix, but I loved them both equally.”
Shady soon formed a cheery pop-punk band with his friends called Badical Turbo Radness, where he got his first taste of songwriting. “The band would write the music and Adam (Kline of the band Golden Shoulders) and I would come up with lyrics and vocal melodies.” Shady says, “I fell in love with writing melodies, I just had no business writing lyrics at that time. I had nothing to write about, really.” BTR enjoyed moderate local success for a few years until college, changing musical tastes and more lucrative music opportunities slowly pulled the group apart.
After the dissolution of BTR, Shady relocated to Los Angeles to try his hand at filmmaking. “I felt an urge to get out into the world a bit more, but I had no idea what to expect. I had no plan.” What resulted was over ten years of financial and professional struggle. “Mainly I worked and lived paycheck to paycheck, desperately trying to squeeze in filmmaking or music wherever I could.” Shady explains, “But I managed to squeeze a lot more drinking in than music or film. Drinking was much easier.”
“I found myself suddenly a decade in Los Angeles and all I had to show for it was a handful of short films & music videos and four failed punk bands. But I also found myself with stories. I finally had experiences. Sure, a lot of bad experiences but also some of the greatest memories I’ll ever have.”
Shady had more or less given up on music, but still had a collection of unrecorded, unheard songs that he never quite knew what to do with. That year, Adam Kline contacted Shady and asked him to come along on an acoustic cross-country tour, to play percussion and sing back up for Golden Shoulders. He agreed and upon returning home, became determined to pick the guitar back up and give music one more shot. He took his tax refund check and bought a digital 8-track recorder and in a spare room in his house, started recording what would become his first album, The Devil To Pay.
“The songs sounded pretty good to me,” Brett says, “I have no idea why they were coming out with sort of a country-western feel to them but I found myself actually wanting to listen to the demos over and over, which had never really happened before with previous bands. So I decided I wanted to do it for real. And to do that, I needed to get back to Nevada City. I needed to involve my friends who were much better musicians than me to fill the songs out.”
Shady returned to Nevada City, recorded his first album with a handful of friends and released it himself to modest sales but favorable reviews and opened the doors to sharing the stage with the likes of Chris Isaak, Hank Williams, Jr and Jeff Bridges, among others.
His second album is called National Hotel. Recorded at Louder Studios by renowned engineer/producer Tim Green, the album features many of the same musicians as on Devil; Jason Graham, David Nicholson, Ryan Donnelly, Ehren Haas and Adam Kline, as well as more recent addition, Jonathan Hansard as well as Randi Soule on strings.
Written during a turbulent three-year period after the end of a six-year relationship, National Hotel, looks back over a lifetime of love, regret, faithfulness and heartbreak. Shady adds, “I usually seem to write about bigger things and approach them from a more agnostic point of view, but at the time I was only able to write about what was immediately surrounding me, and this is what came out.”