Event Review: The Jon Stickley Trio live at The Grey Eagle in Asheville, NC

Were my return to TuffGnarl.com a Rambo movie, it’d go something like this:

You need some background. My last assignment was a bloodbath. I wrote a “Best Live Albums” piece and it turned into some sort of black ops mission in which I was the sole survivor, walking away with only the scars left after the massacre. I walked away, vowing to never again pick up my pen (Dell Latitude E5430). Jesse Scheckner and Chuck Livid, needing a man capable of completing a mission so fraught with peril it would make a man of lesser constitution shit his corduroys, sought me out in the jungles of South America (maybe Southeast Asia?  I never was 100% clear as to which jungle Rambo retreated) where I lived peacefully, fashioning canoes from bamboo and living adjacent to a native tribe who had never before seen a white man. Few words were exchanged. Jesse Scheckner told me that pop culture needed me. I said “no,” then stared listlessly out the window of my hut. Frustrated, he left in anger, storming back to the waiting Army jeep driven by a man resembling a popular frat extra in Revenge of the Nerds. Chuck Livid uttered but one word. My head raised, my eyes shut, and I sighed. Nodding slowly, I moved to the foot of my vintage 1979 waterbed and opened the secret compartment where I keep my nitrous. Tying a maroon headband to my head, I breathed in slowly, blinked, and reached for my pen (Dell Latitude E5430).

Once again, in a gross misallocation of resources, TuffGnarl.com sent me packing to…look I live in Asheville, okay? While this does put me out of the South Florida loop at times, it affords me the opportunity to bring to the site national acts that might’ve not made their way to Miami just yet. Fortunately, I’ve lived in a handful of cities in my life that offer vibrant and interesting music scenes (Winchester was not one of these places) and it’s done more to broaden my musical horizons than buying 1,000 records ever could have.

Cities fortunate enough to still have music scenes are my favorite. One can argue that there is a certain type of scene in every major city and, thanks to the bring-together nature the internet offers, this is true to a large extent. But what I tend to seek out are scenes defined specifically by a geographical area, much like the Florida punk scene TuffGnarl.com proudly represents – music defined and influenced by its surroundings, responsible for creating a scene.

Asheville is a funny town in the sense that two persisting vibes seem to permeate all culture: art and folk. Geographically, Asheville falls in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which is an area with a rich bluegrass history. The city itself, because of its perennial hippie nature, is an artsy town that could give Portland, OR a strong run for its money in the weirdness department. The fusion of these two lifestyles isn’t often successful, but when it is, something very interesting can happen. Such is the embodiment of The Jon Stickley Trio.

Video courtesy of YouTube user: TShaw

Called “newgrass,” the Trio’s style is surprisingly easy to define but hard to envision. Comprised of Jon Stickley (guitar), Lyndsay Pruett (violin), and Patrick Armitage (drums), the group delivers a fusion of bluegrass and “gypsy” jazz that ranges from foot-stomping to psychedelic. In a short set at Asheville’s The Grey Eagle, the band (opening for a more traditional bluegrass act, Della Mae) seamlessly combined all of the above styles in a set unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Firstly, Armitage is a master on drums – clearly a jazz drummer. Stickley and Pruett produced brilliant harmonics which at times compete in a sort of dueling-strings representation of a more traditional style of bluegrass that highlight Stickley’s breakneck flat-picking and Pruett’s depth of skill. At other times, the sound can veer into a folky type of violin – think Last of the Mohicans on psychedelics – which smoothly slows the tempo before Pruett, using effects with a high degree of skill, augments the sound to give way to Stickley’s jazzy, up-tempo numbers that result in a brilliant fusion, not driven by but properly augmented with effects. Stickley himself is as fast a picker as you’ll find but it’s not blind speed that wowed the audience. His musicality, plucked from a seasoned and beautiful-sounding Martin guitar, makes him simultaneously a traditional bluegrass lead player and a wonderfully harmonic guitarist. 

The Trio puts on a high energy and transformative set, producing sounds and harmonies anyone with a sense of “I’ll give anything a listen” or a good joint can lose himself in for the duration of the set. A band with a sense of fun, grateful for the large audience they drew, they closed with a ripping medley book-ended by “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that, in a non-deliberate sense, said to the headliner, “Good luck following this.”

Video courtesy of YouTube user CarolinaMixer

Good luck indeed. Catch The Jon Stickley Trio at The Funky Budha in Boca Raton on October 24th.

Featured image courtesy of www.jonstickley.com

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Matt Forster

Originally from Miami, FL, Matt graduated with a B.A. in History from Randolph-Macon College in 2004. He is the author of Perfect Dark, a musician, and an all-around strange person. He resides in Asheville, NC with his wife and two dogs. Follow him @Dalton_Forster

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