San Francisco embraced metal’s Metallica and Jerry Garcia’s Grateful Dead.
So why not Front Country, a progressive acoustic band armed with bluegrass instrumentation?
“We’re like mad scientists,” said Melody Walker, lead singer of Front Country.
As if from a Petri dish, Front Country return to Bristol to helm the 1927 Society Concert Series on Saturday. Examine the vibrant band in the intimate theater at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Virginia.
“Everybody in this band has a music degree either in jazz or classical,” Walker said by phone from Brattleboro, Vermont. “We’re well-versed in string band music. We have a lot of respect for the music.”
Members of what eventually became Front Country met at a bee-hiving café in San Francisco. A jam session underway, they dove in, clicked, and thus began quite a journey. The year, 2011.
“We came together over our shared love of bluegrass and string band music,” Walker said. “We did the RockyGrass (a bluegrass festival in Colorado) in 2012, entered the band competition. We won, and I started our website the next day.”
Quick ascension, right? An EP, “This is Front Country,” emerged in 2013. Only thing, touring did not open up for Front Country until they won a hotly contested band competition in 2013 in Colorado during the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
“We were up against The Barefoot Movement. It was really close,” Walker said. “After that, we started doing national touring, slowly.”
Incremental growth in Front Country’s sound accompanied their gradual presence on the national scene. Flowers on the cusp of spring, they blossomed as their warmth spread.
“We’ve been organically evolving as a band, slowly,” Walker said. “The market is flooded with really great music, so we’re really thankful.”
Two full-length albums paralleled Front Country’s rise in public awareness. “Sake of the Sound” dawned in 2014. “Other Love Songs” came ashore in 2017. The latter features an adventurous take on The Carter Family’s “Storms are on the Ocean.”
“I’ve always loved The Carter Family,” Walker said. “That song, the lyrics of it sounds so heavy metal to me. But its melody sounds so sweet. I thought, ‘how about if we make it more bluesy?’ A lot of our fans think it’s a song we wrote.”
No wonder. Front Country retooled “Storms are on the Ocean” with a stamp distinctly their own. That’s their modus operandi, a band steeped in bluegrass instrumentation yet most definitely not a bluegrass band. Given original lyrics or not, they strip down a song’s DNA, apply their own, and tailor it to fit their string band foundation of sort-of-pop music.
Processed? Not a chance. Front Country conjure human music, sounds made strictly by and for humans sans impediments.
“I think people find it refreshing in our digital world,” Walker said. “It’s like the ancient tones, man. It gets people at their core. It blows people’s minds that we can play music without amplification. It’s classic and enduring.”