AJ Lee & Blue Summit homecoming at the Independent in San Francisco

It’s been said that you can’t go home again, but judging by the enthusiastic, jam-packed crowd at the Independent in San Francisco on Saturday, February 11, AJ Lee & Blue Summit have busted that theory. Winter shows are nothing new for Northern California bands taking a break from the road, like the Grateful Dead on New Year’s Eve, or Molly Tuttle at the Guild Theatre near her Palo Alto home town, so Blue Summit at the Independent is just following that tradition.

The band has never sounded better and more confident, undoubtedly due to their extensive touring schedule. The material drew heavily from the latest album from 2021, I’ll Come Back, plus several pieces from the upcoming album, City of Glass, which was recorded in Oakland and produced by Lech Wierzynski, from Oakland-based California Honeydrops. They spread the material fairly evenly, leaning of course on AJ’s mandolin, and lonesome, soulful vocals, but also Scott Gates classic country guitar and voice. Jan Purat’s fiddle and Sullivan Tuttle on guitar drive the powerful band, which is a somewhat unique and stellar two-guitar lineup. Grammy winner bass player Larry Cook sat in on what has become a roving bass situation since Chad Bowen’s departure, but you would never know it as the groove was rock solid.

Their growing, adoring, and multi-generational audience includes lots of California bluegrass folks who watched AJ grow up, but we also met several new fans who got wind of them from their local friends, children, or saw the fabulous Neil Young cover Harvest Moon viral video that AJ did with the Comatose Brothers, which was their closing number.

Opening act Two Runner, featuring songwriter Paige Anderson and fiddle player Emilie Rose, set the tone nicely with their sparse yet satisfying old-time vibe. The Nevada City, California duo is also no stranger to the road, and will be heading out on their tour of the midwest and southwest in March.

You’ve got to appreciate the organic approach Blue Summit has taken by slowly building a following and not choosing to drop a lot of releases or move to Nashville. They are doing it their way and it shows in how much fun they are having. The upcoming sixteen-state spring tour listed on the website starts Friday, February 16, kicking off in Kansas then proceeds to New Mexico, and Colorado before heading east to Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New York, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida then back west to Washington and Oregon, before returning to California in May.

They still can be seen in mid-sized venues so make sure you get on board before it’s too late.

All photos by Dave Berry

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About the Author

Dave Berry

Dave Berry is a California based author, mandolin picker, and composer who writes the California Report column for Bluegrass Today. He grew up in the Ohio Valley right between where the Big Sandy and Big Scioto rivers dump into the Ohio. His articles, Morning Walk album, and video are available on streaming sites and his website at daveberrymusic.net