If there was some type of IBMA momentum award recognizing “The band that defies all odds,” The Jon Stickley Trio would need to clean a spot on their mantle.
The Jon Stickley Trio is surprising everyone, probably even themselves, as they quickly move into the national scene with their unique, all-instrumental sound. Their recent EP release, Triangular, was recorded in Harrisonburg, VA with studio time awarded for “Best New Artist” at the Red Wing Roots Music Festival. “The prize was two free days of tracking at Blue Sprocket Sound in Harrisonburg, VA,” says Jon. “So we took a trip up there and tied in a performance at The Clementine. We really enjoyed getting to know Harrisonburg, and the out-of-town session helped us focus on the music”.
The EP starts out with the syncopated cross-picking of Blackburn Brothers, a song Jon wrote with his brother Jeff about a fresh seafood market in Carolina Beach. “I recorded it on a little-heard solo recording of mine named Stickley… ,” says Jon, “and the trio worked up a fresh rearranged version for the EP. We kick off a lot of shows with that tune.”
The second track, Plain Sight, was written in response to the Paris nightclub shootings. It builds a frantic yet muted energy through the song, representing both the fear and confusion of the innocent people trapped in the event, as well as the helplessness we all felt from so far away. The tension of the song releases into a beautiful interlude that shows how well Stickley and fiddler Lindsay Pruett work together to craft one cohesive melody. Like two hands on a piano, they each play their part to form a singular, completely unified sound. This effect is so mesmerizing you easily forget there are two distinct instruments playing and begin to hear them as one body, one sound. An experience so rare you have to reach into the stratospheres of musical genius duos—Bela Fleck/Chick Corea, or Darol Anger/Mike Marshall—to find applicable comparisons.
Palm Tree, was a song first recorded with Andy Thorn (banjo – Leftover Salmon) and Bobby Britt (fiddle – Town Mountain) and released on the first Trio album. “I wanted to record a version with Patrick (drums) and Lyndsay that was more like the version we play at shows,” says Stickley. “It’s a blast to play because the time signature switches between 5/4 and 6/8.”
The album ends with a little bit of a surprise as Stickley tackles the Tony Rice classic Manzanita. A courageous choice as it is a song that every note and every phrase is burned into all of our brains with unquestioning familiarity. “At first, I was really scared to record one of my hero Tony Rice’s most well known pieces,” says Jon, “but I ultimately decided to do it because I thought there was a chance it could lead more people to his amazing music. I think of it way more as a tribute to my hero than my ‘reworking’ of the original. I play it pretty straight, and it’s still so hard!”
The band has just come off a national tour with Railroad Earth that went as far as San Francisco, where they played “a bucket list” venue—The Fillmore. The Trio is gearing up for 2017 to be the busiest year of their careers, including their up-coming full length album with producer Dave King of The Bad Plus. They will keep an active tour schedule while hitting multiple nationally known festivals including WinterWonderGrass, Anastasia Music Fest, FloydFest and many others.
The current resurgence of progressive bluegrass has been a hot topic lately with Stickley and his good friend and fellow guitarist Billy Strings leading the way in bluegrass flatpicking. “There is definitely a progressive bluegrass movement happening right now,” says Stickley. “I think that most of the artists who are a part of it are traditional bluegrass fans at heart. That said, they obviously have other influences as well, but what I think people are honing in on is that there has to be some type of bridge for listeners between whatever they’ve heard before and bluegrass. The discovery of bluegrass happens backwards for a lot of people, myself included. Coming from a punk rock background, I was more drawn to the music of Sam Bush, David Grisman, and more modern groups like Yonder Mountain. I couldn’t connect with the music of Bill Monroe and The Stanley Brothers right away… it took some time for my ears to understand what was happening. Now the Stanley Brothers are my favorite band!”
As the traditionalists and the IBMA slowly come around to accepting these progressive, and sometimes very progressive, groups into the scene as respected members, there is not a better argument for the need of this acceptance than Jon Stickley’s path from punk rock to The Stanley Brothers.
For tour dates and album purchases, visit the band online.