When: Fri., Aug. 25, 9 p.m. 2017
Catch Front Country in a small club while you can, because when the band returns to Raleigh next month for IBMA's World of Bluegrass, the quintet may well be hoisting the association's trophy for Emerging Artist of the Year.
"I think we've been emerging for a while now, so maybe we'll get an award for it," quips Melody Walker, the band's singer, guitarist, and chief songwriter. "Or maybe not. We've been kind of pushing the boundaries about as far as [those boundaries] will probably go, but we'll be stoked whichever way it goes."
Indeed, while Front County has attended the IBMA festival each year since the conference's move to Raleigh four years ago, and since its members recently relocated from San Francisco to Nashville, the band's adventurous string band music remains—as its West Coast pedigree might suggest—on the far fringes of conventional bluegrass. But this year's award nomination shows that the group's more expansive reachings have hardly slowed its ascent in the world of the often traditionally minded bluegrass association. Walker has one of the most captivating voices in roots music; she deftly navigates pop-inspired melodies while delivering emotional and vulnerable lyricism with room-rattling power suggestive of Bay Area quakes. The rest of the versatile, progressive outfit packs plenty of instrumental punch on dynamic arrangements that draw from Appalachian traditions and indie rock influence, as well as each member's diverse backgrounds in classical, jazz, and even Afrobeat.
Though Front Country's crossover appeal has acclimated the band to earning fans outside of the bluegrass sphere, the group took it a step further on a recent trip to China, where it played a festival in the Sanjiangyuan region celebrating the opening of the country's first national park. Front Country also participated in a cultural exchange with three Tibetan musicians while rafting down the Daqu River.
"There were lots of similarities to Appalachian mountain music so we really explored those," Walker explains. "Some songs were about grasslands and farming, things that rural people sing about no matter where they're from, and a lot of it is actually in a similar musical mode, so it works really well together, and they were definitely intrigued by the melodies in the songs we shared with them."
For Front County, that intrigue holds fast, no matter the traditions to which one is normally tied. —Spencer Griffith