August 26, 2011 | Back to: News

Bluegrass and beyond: One of the best ever highlights outstanding lineup at Sand Harbor

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Between working with his band and figuring out his new MacBook Air, Peter Rowan is busier than ever. The new laptop is for working on his memoirs. The band is for playing top-notch, foot-stamping bluegrass, which is exactly what it will be doing this Saturday to cap the first of two evenings at the third annual Bluegrass and Beyond festival at Sand Harbor.The Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band features Rowan on guitar, Jody Stecher on mandolin, Keith Little on banjo and Paul Knight on bas. All four contribute vocals. With more than a century of combined music-making between them, these gentlemen know how to pick.Rowan himself accounts for more than 50 years of that time. He was born in 1942 in Wayland, Mass., and first heard bluegrass and country music as a child at square dances.“Post World War II there was sort of a movement,” Rowan said. “Well, really it started with the Great Depression, with Roosevelt pumping money into America. He promoted a lot of artists to go out into the American world. The bluegrass thing, folk music and square dances, were all part of a resurgence of what America had been in days past. We all knew the songs and sang and played them.”Although he had an electric band, the Cupids, as a teen, bluegrass music was what grabbed and held Rowan's attention. “Bluegrass for me was where the blues and the ballad traditions really came together,” he said.By his early 20s, Rowan was playing alongside Bill Monroe, the man affectionately known as the father of bluegrass. “Well you know, he was the man,” Rowan said. “They called him ‘Big Mon.' I learned enough with him for a good foundation in bluegrass. He said to me, ‘Pete, if you can play my music, you can play any music.' ”Rowan has played in numerous bands over the years, as well as worked solo. He and David Grisman played together in Opera Earth, often opening for the Doors in the late 1960s. He formed Old and in the Way in 1973 with Grisman, Jerry Garcia and others. He and his brothers Chris and Lorin played in the 1970s as the Rowan Brothers. More recent work includes the Peter Rowan and Tony Rice Quartet, and Peter Rowan and the Free Mexican Air Force, among many others.The Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band released “Legacy” in late 2010, and will be featuring material from the album Saturday. “We had a Grammy nomination for that,” Rowan said. “It was nice to get that recognition. You kind of feel like a 19 year old.”Rowan also is keenly assembling his memoirs from five decades of bluegrass music. “I've been really hammering away,” he said. “When you're playing music, you're playing but you're also hearing, listening to everyone else. But when you're writing, you're listening to something from much deeper inside of you.”While part of the project has been done on a 1950s era Olivetti typewriter Rowan found in a consignment store, he recently purchased a Macbook Air. “I just went to the Apple store to have some geek wizard get me all completely cybered,” he said. “You know what I found out? The Air has a better keyboard than the Olivetti.”

Amiable, accessible and occasionally irreverent, Keller Williams has been forced to address a serious, delicate topic.One of the most popular songs from the new Keller and the Keels album entirely composed of cover songs is Amy Winehouse's “Rehab,” an autobiographical track by the singer, 27, who died last month of a drug overdose.Williams, best known as a looping “one-man jam band,” earlier this year released the second Keller and the Keels record, “Thief.” Williams and Larry and Jenny Keel are Keller and the Keels, who headline the second night of the Bluegrass and Beyond festival at San Harbor.“Thief” is a collection of relatively popular songs played in bluegrass style. Williams has a way of playing songs that not only make you tap your foot but also smile. Anyone who gives thought to the “Thief” tracks will recognize the homage to the songwriting from artists like Cracker, Kris Kristofferson and John Wozniak.But understandably, Williams is concerned some might portray Williams as making light of the Winehouse tragedy. While Williams may be a well-known artist in the jam band and bluegrass-loving society, mainstream media are another thing.“That is the second time I've been asked that,” Williams said. “The first was from a company called iClips. ... They wanted to know if I wanted to take down the few versions of Amy Winehouse songs. I think the iClips folks thought I was making fun of her. That's my take on it.”Williams explained why he covered the song.“She had this old-soul kind of voice and this new hip-hop swagger confidence, and you put it together and you have something that was really special,” he said. “I always liked that song. The record's killer but that song, it was played so many times for a reason; it was one of those things. But no, I will definitely be carrying on with playing that song. Not any more than I would had she been alive, but I'm not going to not play it because she's dead.”As is the jam band bent, Keller and the Keels hooked up because they knew it would be good and fun.Larry Keel dropped in on Williams' open-mike night in Fredericksburg, Virginia. They became friends and played together in a trio with Larry's wife, Jenny, a bass player. They recorded a record, “Grass,” in 2006. The follow-up, “Thief,” revisits some great songs which will be played Sunday at the Bluegrass and Beyond Festival at San Harbor along with some Keller and the Keels originals and some originals by Williams and the Keels, said Williams, who explained why he does covers.“Usually what happens is the song decides me,” he said. “It creeps into my brain and I have to learn it and play it and record it just to get it out of my head.”And the covers are a hoot, and, as Kristofferson wrote in “Don't Cuss That Fiddle,” “We're in this gig together so let's settle down and steal each other's songs.”Danny Barnes, who plays Saturday at the festival, had one of his songs used on “Thief.”“I'm a huge Keller Williams fan and Larry Keel, those guys are awesome,” Barnes said. “I think (Williams) is the most creative person in the jam band world.”

Josh Sweigert and Tim ParsonsLake Tahoe Action

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Aug 26, 2011 03:45PM Published Aug 26, 2011 03:41PM Copyright 2011 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.