Americana Roots: The Dirty Grass Players


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. The Dirty Grass Players, from the bluegrass hotbed of Baltimore, Maryland, are an innovative, forward-thinking band who maintain a deep connection to the traditional sounds of the past, while delivering it with a loose, rock ‘n’ roll swagger.

Name: Dirty Grass Players.

For Fans Of: Old & In The Way, Infamous Stringdusters, Travelin’ McCourys.

Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Band Members: Alex Berman (banjo, vocals), Ben Kolakowski (guitar,vocals), Ryan Rogers (mandolin), Mikey Sallemi (bass)


Discography:  ‘Dirty Grass Players’ (2017), ‘Beneath the Woodpile’ (2020)

Background: The last few years have been mighty good for string-bands, as there has been an outbreak of younger, progressive groups mining the rich vein of bluegrass.  At the same time there has been a renaissance of traditional legends releasing some of the best albums of their long careers.  This has combined to create a great time to be into bluegrass, string-band, and old-timey music.

One of those younger bands bursting onto the scene is Baltimore, Maryland’s Dirty Grass Players.  They are joining an ever-growing crop of new groups, clearly schooled in bluegrass and string-band music, but who are not content to merely play in the style of their forefathers, and instead are looking to push that familiar bluegrass-style into new directions.

The Dirty Grass Players formed in 2015 around banjo-picker Alex Berman, guitarist Ben Kolakowski, and mandolinist Ryan Rogers at a series of informal picking-sessions in the Baltimore area.  The band quickly started to garner attention in the area, culminating in them winning the competitive Charm City Bluegrass Festival Battle of the Bands in 2017.  They released their self-titled debut album later the same year.  The band’s original bassist and fiddler left shortly after and were replaced by bassist Mikey Sallemi, as the band reorganized as a powerful four-piece.  Since then the Dirty Grass Players have become a mainstay on the US festival circuit, playing at some of the most prestigious festivals from coast to coast including Telluride, Grey Fox, Kingman Island, and Hot August Music Festival.

Their latest album, ‘Beneath the Woodpile’, released in July 2020, is an energetic-explosion of old-time pickin’, coloured with a stylish, new-grass hand that finds the Dirty Grass Players straddling the thin line between the traditional-style which is clearly the backbone of what they do, and a more progressive approach.  This approach finds them sneaking in hints and references of everything from the lyrical fun of John Hartford to the musical adventurousness of Phish to the Southern Rock roots of The Allman Brothers Band all with a string-band setup and a bluegrass heart.

This ability to subtly move through a variety of influences and styles can often sound clumsy for many bands, but the Dirty Grass Players have found a sweet-spot amongst all those diverse styles.  This ability is aided by the band’s strong songwriting which creates a wide palate of sonic-soundscapes for the band to work from, both in the studio and in a live setting.  On ‘Beneath the Woodpile’ they veer from the traditional chug of the title-track to the freight-train banjo-roll of  “Crossing County Lines,” through the contemplative strum of “On the Other Side,” to the foot-stomping thrash of “Grand Voyager,” creating an album propelled along by the band’s obvious, unrestrained joy.  “Our sound comes from our love of hard-driving bluegrass mixed with a little bit of dirty rock n roll,” says Rogers.  “We don’t take anything too seriously.”

The Dirty Grass Players and ‘Beneath the Woodpile’ are a welcome addition to the evolution of bluegrass music.  There is enough of that old-timey soul to keep your grandfather smiling while maintaining enough combustible energy to keep you dancing all night.  It is bluegrass for a new generation.  

What They Do Live:


About Tim Newby 59 Articles
Author of books, writer of words, enjoyer of good times. Often found with a beer in hand and barefoot at a festival somewhere. Author of 'Bluegrass in Baltimore: The Hard Drivin' Sound & Its Legacy' (2015), 'Leftover Salmon: Thirty Years of Festival! (2019). New book 'Pete Browning: The Life & Troubled Times of a Forgotten Legend' due out in 2023. Follow him on twitter @Tim_Newby9 .
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Catherine Hickman

Article was well written and spot on in describing The Dirty Grass Player’s musical journey.