This is the first of several reports from Jen Hughes following the 2015 Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
They may be from Down Under, but they sure can make an impression up at 8,750 feet. They mustered their courage and dove right into their first Telluride Bluegrass Festival. And, by all accounts, they fit right in. The Melbourne Australia-based group got the festivarians’ blood flowing early with their high energy newgrass when they opened up the 42nd Telluride Bluegrass Festival’s Friday line-up. Pulling from their most recent release, Powerlines, and their earlier self-titled album, the group had people boogeying to the uber catchy, Madeline, and the frantic, Go to Hell. Nick Keeling’s voice soared down the valley in the heartfelt-turned-hopping, Cruel Alibis, and the strings were popping on the hot, Allegheny. “These guys are good,” was a constant refrain in Utarpia that set.
Conversations among the crowd and in Town Park campground afterwards included: “Did you catch Mustered Courage?” People dug their sound. Some said they sounded like Mumford and Sons; others said Old Crow Medicine Show or The Avett Brothers. What they actually sounded like, though, was Mustered Courage – which is good, and you should check them out.
Mustered Courage valiantly braved a long day in the high mountains. After setting the crowd on fire in the morning, they also ensured those who were lucky enough to get into their sold-out nightgrass show were roaring until the wee hours. They bookended a tremendous day of music on Planet Bluegrass and even took time out between sets to visit with Bluegrass Today.
Nick Keeling (vocals/banjo) and Julian Abrahams (vocals/guitar/mandolin) said their band formed from their friendship during jazz school in Canberra, Australia. They started as a hip-hop soul group, but after a number of years found themselves looking for something new to do. Having experience on the mandolin (Julian) and in bluegrass (Nick), they decided to move in the direction of songwriting and making harmonies in progressive, contemporary bluegrass, “a niche factor in Australia.” They readily admitted that New Grass Revival is one of their greatest influences as we all looked with reverence at Bela Fleck walking by. Other influences include, “traditional bluegrass artists from the founding fathers all the way to the Infamous Stringdusters and jamgrass bands.” Nick listened to a lot of Earth Wind and Fire and ’70s funk growing up, while Julian rocked out to AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses in his youth. They both were quick to emphatically add the SteelDrivers to their list of influences. In response to whether they had a chance to interact with some of their influences who were also at the Festival, such as Sam Bush and Bela, they comically asked if “ogling counts as an interaction.”
Nick explained that neither of them comes from a true traditional bluegrass background. Julian thought that “writing from a perspective that is not traditional bluegrass but with bluegrass instrumentation gives [them] a bit of an edge. It is just something different.”
As for what it was like for them to look out from the Telluride Festival’s main stage? “What an amazing backdrop to look over while you’re playing,” Julian said. He added, “It is an amazing setting; mind-boggling at how beautiful it is.” Nick drolly said “I forget what I am doing. I have to learn all these lyrics and stuff, and play banjo. It makes it more distracting when you have other things to look at: good looking mountains… good looking trees….” Julian mused, “To have 12,000 people here, lovers of bluegrass, it is such a great community of people that really want to be here to listen to the music. We noticed that today when we played at 9:45 a.m. Everyone listened and made us feel a lot of love.”
Nick and Julian explained that there really is nothing comparable to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Australia. “We try”, Julian explained, “but it is a small community of bluegrass. It is hard to have anything anywhere near the size of Telluride there.”
So, true to their form of going all in on their first Telluride, Mustered Courage figured out a way to bring Telluride to their fellow countrymen. They found their way to the legendary Camp Run-A-Muck in Town Park and live-streamed a late night set from there halfway around the world to Australia. It does not get much more Oz-some than that. Reports are that the smiles are still huge high in Telluride as well as Down Under.
You can still catch Mustered Courage during their United States tour before they head home to release a new album. No courage necessary. Just go ahead and go. You will be glad you did!