A few tickets remain for next week’s opening performance of the Bitterroot Performing Arts Series’ fifteenth season. Executive Director Laurie Ruffner confirmed that the last show of the six-part series featuring Judy Collins in April is already sold out.
“We’ve never seen anything like it,” Ruffner said. “It always helps our season ticket sales when we bookend great performances to open and close a season, but I think people are clamoring for tickets because we’re presenting amazing shows in between as well.”
The series opens with the ever-entertaining Travelin’ McCourys, a bluegrass quintet that have become staples on the festival circuit and whose style is both historic and progressive.
The band is led by the McCoury brothers – Ronnie on mandolin and Rob on the banjo.
“My brother and I were brought up into music because my dad was always playing,” Rob said. “He wasn’t exactly a full-time musician back then. Mostly, he was a logger and worked in the woods all week but spent the weekends playing shows. I remember seeing my dad and his buddies and how much fun they were having and I definitely wanted to try and do the same.”
Rob and Ronnie’s dad’s weekend picking led him down the path of success and Del McCoury is considered one of the most influential and successful musicians in the history of bluegrass. The boys were barely teenagers when they joined their dad’s band.
“My first show was in Bathe, New York,” Rob said. “I was learning to play banjo, but he needed a bass player at the last minute so I played bass. I became the bass player from then on out for about a year. But then I started playing banjo in the band.”
Back then, the bands would play all three days of a long weekend festival.
“It wasn’t just a one show and out,” he said.
“I really never imagined a bluegrass musician could hone his craft full-time and become professional,” he said. So he also followed his dad’s footsteps and learned a trade. He was a mechanic for many years and played music on the side.
“My brother and I got into rock and roll and played some of that as well,” he said. “Dad encouraged everything. He was cool with that. He was just glad to see us playing whatever we were playing. His philosophy was ‘there are only two kinds of music – good and bad’. So we’d play some southern rock, Leonard Skinner and the like, and he’d listen to it right with me.”
Rob and Ronnie kept their musicianship in the hobby realm until Del sat them down and offered fatherly advice.
“It was his idea for us to start a band and negotiate with his manager,” Rob said. “He told us, ‘You’d better get something going because I’m getting old and if something happens to me, starting cold on your own could be rough’.”
Rob said his dad was determined to help, ”So we got a booking agent who believed in it and he keeps us working more than we care to some times. He books both bands so he keeps our families coordinated. It’s grown into something special. We play all sorts of venues and events and play to the younger crowds. We’re at music festivals that have all types of music and I think that’s a great because we’re more than a bluegrass band.”
The Travelin’ McCoury’s eclectic style of rock and bluegrass has been solidified with their first self-titled debut album. With Jason Carter on fiddle, Alan Bartram on bass and Cody Kilby on guitar, the group has been traveling more than the Travelin’ McCoury’s ever imagined a decade ago.
“We’re excited to come to Hamilton, we’ve never played in that part of the state, but we love Montana and love the crowds there,” he said. “We’ll be playing songs we’ve been doing for a long time, but we’re constantly working on new stuff so we’ll have some new songs that haven’t been recorded yet. We’ll try and read the crowd a little bit to see what they’re responding well to and go from there.”
In addition to the concert on Friday, Sept. 21, at the Hamilton Performing Arts Center, the band will also participate in educational outreach down the street at Rooted Music with Jenn Adams and her students on Friday afternoon. Anyone interested in the bluegrass workshop should call Rooted Music to inquire about capacity.
To snag one of the 10 percent of tickets remaining to the show, call the Bitterroot Performing Arts Box Office at 363-7946 or purchase online at bitterrootperformingarts.org.
Next in the series line-up is another sibling collaboration, but in the classical genre. The Ahn Trio will perform on Oct. 6, at 8 p.m., Remaining tickets for that performance are on sale now.