The Columbus Brewgrass Festival’s inaugural event promises to bring the best of two wonderful worlds – craft brews and progressive bluegrass – to downtown Columbus. Showcasing bluegrass music and craft beer together is becoming an increasingly popular idea because, well, it’s a damn good idea. And this 2-night event at The Bluestone on March 2-3 looks to be no different as it boasts an impressive line-up in a fitting venue, a combination that has CincyMusic excited to take the drive up I-71.
The Bluestone is a ready-made space for a bluegrass and beer festival. There’s an aura to the renovated 19th century church similar to the Southgate House Revival in Newport, KY, that basically begs for banjo notes to bounce off its stained-glass windows. The music takes place in front of a wide-open dance floor and wrap-around balcony. The 7 bars in the venue will allow for plenty of space to grab one of the many craft beers on tap for the weekend.
Greensky Bluegrass is on tap to headline both nights, which is worth the price of admission by itself. They have the musical chops to tackle anything from Flatt and Scruggs to the Grateful Dead, and don’t be surprised to hear them cover both over the weekend. But it’s their sincere songwriting, expansive jamming, and inspiring light shows that have garnered the Kalamazoo-based quartet a Phish-like following. If you don’t want to take my word for it, just ask Camp Greensky- a Facebook group of 12,000+ fans continuously sharing refreshingly positive testimonials about the impact GSBG has had on their lives. To put it simply, GSBG is a don’t miss. CincyMusic sat down with bassist Mike Devol prior to their February 2017 show in Covington.
Trashgrass extraordinaires and Cincinnati locals Rumpke Mountain Boys are joining up with the Montana-based Kitchen Dwellers for a co-headlining Midwest and out-West tour this Spring. Stop #2 will take place on Friday night of the Columbus Brewgrass Festival. While RMB have been well established on the jamband circuit, the Kitchen Dwellers are relative newcomers that have exploded onto the scene with well-received sets at festivals such as the Northwest String Summit. Both bands boast a high-energy personality that ensures the foot-stomping will be well underway before the headliners take the stage to close the night.
The second day of the festival brings a dream line-up for any bluegrass-lover. First, Larry Keel will perform a solo set, giving us a stripped-down look at this flatpicking legend. The Larry Keel Experience- which includes his wife Jenny on Bass and Jared Pool on mandolin- Feb. 2016 album “Experienced” is boldly but aptly named, and each time Larry takes the stage it lives up to the musical journey from traditional flatpicking to other-worldly improvisation. If you don’t get enough of Larry from his solo set, he is also being billed as special guest with GSBG. This is a welcome sign if you’re hoping for collaboration among the musicians and groups throughout the evening.
Billy Strings and his band are currently opening up for GSBG on their tour that kicked off with a 3-night NYE stand at the Riviera Theater in Chicago, and they’ll play the same role for the Columbus BrewGrass Festival’s final stanza. Billy is only in his mid-20s, but he’s already established himself as must-see attraction bluegrass fans. I’d ask you to go to YouTube and start familiarizing yourself now, but then you’d be falling down a rabbit hole of Billy’s many insane videos and may forget to come back and finish this preview. Billy grew up in a bluegrass family, and after a stint as a troubled teenager playing in a heavy metal band he returned to his roots. Luckily, he didn’t leave the showmanship and guitar shredding behind him and he will setup the GSBG finale perfectly on that Saturday night. The opportunity to see both Larry and Billy sitting in with GSBG in one night sounds more like a dream from a Colorado mountain town than a Saturday night in Columbus, which makes this event a welcome addition to the area.
The full tap list won’t be known until closer to time, but we do know Rhinegeist (Cincinnati), Jackie O’s (Athens) and The Actual Brewing Company (Columbus) are on board and are expected to bring both bestsellers and rarities to the festival. If that’s not enough to wet your palette, Yellow Springs Americana quartet Blue Moon Soup and Illinois roots group Still Shine will be posted up in the Beer Room on Friday and Saturday, respectively, to keep the party going between sets and while sampling beer.