Americana Roots highlights the freshest and most original Americana and bluegrass from across the pond in the US. It covers everything from brand-new, just out of the box bands, to cult favourites, to established acts who have yet to reach the UK’s shores. If Bill Monroe and Emmylou Harris road tripped to Burning Man festival and then moved to the mountains to write music and ski you would have Pixie & the Partygrass Boys.
Name: Pixie & the Partygrass Boys.
For Fans Of: Leftover Salmon, Billy Strings, Trout Steak Revival.
Hometown: Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.
Band Members: Katia “Pixie” Racine (vocals, ukulele), Amanda B. Grapes (vocals, fiddle), Zach Downes (bass), Ben Weiss (mandolin, vocals), Andrew Nelson (guitar, vocals).
Discography: ‘Utah Made’ EP (2018), ‘The River Speaks Plainly’ (2020)
Background: “We wanted to do something acoustic that was high energy – kinda like punk rock – with lots of high speed improvisation – kinda like bluegrass – where we could stretch out creatively while still providing something people would dance to,” says Pixie & the Partygrass Boys mandolinist Ben Weiss. He admits though, that the original incarnation of the band did not quite achieve that. “None of us were brought up in the bluegrass tradition and we were definitely searching for our sound.” That all changed when the band added fiddler Amanda B. Grapes. Grapes learned to fiddle growing up in Kentucky, and brought a more tempered, traditional side to the band that they were trying to find. Her addition completed their sound and transformed them. Before her arrival the band had been going down a deep jazz hole that was born out of a gypsy-guitar background, but with the addition of Grapes the band relocated their sound to the mountains of Appalachia.
Grapes addition to the rest of the band’s odd background helped them craft a sound that is hard to pin down. “It’s fast, fun, and high energy, designed to fuel the party (hence the name, Partygrass),” says Weiss. “I’ve heard it called jamgrass, but I don’t think anyone in the band has ever called it that or reached for that sound intentionally.”
The strength of the band is in their diversity of songwriting, which allows them to take on many musical identities like a weird bluegrass-superhero-freak. “Everybody in the band composes so we’ve developed quite the eclectic musical palette,” explains Weiss. “Katia writes beautiful songs about love and death, as well as what I would consider the musings of a peaceful, yet powerful witch. Amanda brings barn burning bluegrass tunes to the table. During quarantine she’s written some beautiful ethereal tunes which capture the wistfulness of a warm fire on a snowy day, in my opinion. Andrew writes abstract punk rock bangers about aliens. Zach writes songs that would be right at home on Broadway in the 1930’s, complete with doo-wap background vocals and multiple key changes. While I write bluegrass songs about skiing in the mountains and boating on the river, and more punk rock leaning songs of the “angry hippy” variety, proclaiming the inherent perfection and beauty of the world and all things, but also crying out in protest of it’s wanton destruction at our own hands.” With five productive songwriters in the band, they have developed a large backlog of songs waiting to be released, and Weiss said the band is planning on clearing the decks and gradually releasing three albums worth of material in 2021.
With that diverse, hard to pin down sound, Pixie & the Partygrass Boys have found a home on the festival scene, as it is in a live setting where they shine brightest. Festivals have also allowed the band to further develop their sound as they continually look to those who came before them for guidance. Weiss says, “The beautiful thing about this community is that the inspiration comes from everywhere, in all shapes and sizes. There’s something to be learned from bands at all levels. Bigger bands like Leftover Salmon and Railroad Earth have blazed trails that are now well trodden by the likes of us, and it’s inspiring the see the way they foster communities around their success and what they do to keep things fresh, both for their fans and their own personal creativity so they don’t get burned out.”
For Pixie & the Partygrass Boys it is a perfect time as it seems that there is nothing off-limits for a string band to do these days. They can add drums, play punk rock, and use odd instrumentation. All things that might have been looked down on at one-time in the bluegrass world. For a band like Pixie & the Partygrass Boys they are a natural fit for this evolution in string-band music with their non-traditional backgrounds. “For us it’s lovely, because we can pull from all of our influences and fuse them together,” says Weiss joyfully. “It feels like discovering new colors, sometimes. We’re always trying to expand our horizons and find new sounds, while also expanding our roots in the tradition of American string music. There’s so much to be learned from the past and it always enriches whatever we’re creating in the present moment.”
What They Do Live:
To check out all the artists featured in Americana Roots swing by the regularly updated playlist below: