From Frisco with love: Ian Parker on Meadow Mountain headlining 10 Mile Music Hall
FRISCO — Meadow Mountain is one of the Colorado bands to watch. The group got their first big break in 2017 when they won the renowned Rockygrass band contest and this year the five-piece bluegrass band performed at The Great American Beer Festival and the International Bluegrass Music Association conference.
They return to 10 Mile Music Hall this Saturday, Oct. 19, as headliners after opening for The Infamous Stringdusters in 2018.
“It’s really exciting for me to play in Frisco,” said Meadow Mountain fiddle player Ian Parker, “because there’s so many folks I know up there and I grew up playing piano, but until very recently, none of them knew that I was doing something else.”
What: Meadow Mountain with Masontown and Turkeyfoot
When: 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 19. Doors open at 7.
Where: 10 Mile Music Hall, 710 Main St., Frisco
Cost: $12 for general admission in advance and $15 the day of the show. Visit 10milemusic.com to purchase.
The two bands have a special connection since Stringdusters’ banjo player Chris Pandolfi produced the group’s debut album and subsequently signed them to the band’s label, Tape Time Records. Based in Denver like Pandolfi, the current members of Meadow Mountain hail from across Colorado. Guitarist Summers Baker is from Edwards, mandolinist Jack Dunlevie is from Eagle, bassist Wilson Luallen is from Alamosa, banjo player Sam Armstrong-Zickefoose is from Colorado Springs and Frisco-native Parker, who still has family in town.
Yet not long before all of that success, it’s hard to imagine three band members — Parker, Dunlevie and Baker — had never played a bluegrass tune.
The Frisco fiddler
A natural musician who played everything from percussion to the clarinet in high school, Parker got a degree in classical piano while at the University of Denver. He roomed with Dunlevie, who was in a punk band at the time. However, music from Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers — two groups helmed by mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile — would frequently emanate from Dunlevie’s computer speakers. Though he recalls listening to Nickel Creek on Krystal 93 growing up, it wasn’t until Dunlevie pressed the play button that Parker earnestly paid attention and soaked in the songs.
“At the time, my experience with listening to music was classic rock, Billy Joel, Elton John and a bunch of classical music,” said Parker. “Particularly the Punch Brothers stuff, I never really heard anything like that.”
In between semesters Dunlevie would head back to the Vail Valley and play mainly Dave Matthews Band covers at the farmers market with Baker, who attended Vail Christian High School alongside Dunlevie. The busking morphed genres when Parker played in trio on the washboard and eventually the violin as they taught themselves the styles of bluegrass. The foundation for Meadow Mountain was more firmly set when Luallen, another DU student, joined in.
Though they go by different names depending on genre, the violin and fiddle are built the same. Originally a viola player, Parker made a switch when gifted a violin that belonged to his great-great grandfather. He’s since retired the family heirloom and currently bows a 1947 German violin that he’s fallen in love with.
“They’re like cars,” Parker said. “You get into your car, you know how it works, you know how it runs, you can tell when something is up, you can tell when something’s off. Then you put a different violin in your hand and you’re not so familiar with it. Even though I put so many hours into it, it just feels different.”
To stay in the groove at the end of college, both musically and financially, they followed the suggestion from their former bassist and auditioned to become the house band on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship. For one month in 2015 they played three to six hours every night in the lounge with only a couple days off.
The band’s repertoire of original songs and covers of tunes like “Sweet Caroline” wasn’t that large and they cut their teeth on the constant performing while living in the cramped quarters that also housed their instruments, including a stand-up bass.
“That much performance time solidified our desire to stand on a stage and make noise at people,” Parker said. “The fact that we all got off the boat still friends and still wanting to make music was a pretty good indicator that we could have some longevity with this project.”
Back on land, they became more serious about the prospects of Meadow Mountain and hired George Guthrie to turn the quartet into a quintet with his banjo. Guthrie moved to New York shortly after recording their debut album. Armstrong-Zickefoose, who worked with Meadow Mountain when Guthrie toured in Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s “Bright Star” musical, officially became a full-time member.
With Armstrong-Zickefoose on board and one album under their belt, Meadow Mountain has branched out even further from traditional bluegrass while working on the second album. Parker likens their progressive sound to The Stringdusters, Punch Brothers, The Lil Smokies and other “ADM,” or acoustic dance music, artists.
While on the road, tunes from Swedish folk to punk, metal and hip-hop can be heard inside the tour van.
“It’s all important and it all informs what we do,” Parker said. “If we can kind of draw from all of these influences in a way that augments our sound, then we’re going to take that into consideration.”
Other influences come from more physical locations. Their latest single, “The Bridge,” has lyrics that reference a yearning to leave the urban sprawl and return to the High Country. Even the name Meadow Mountain is a nod toward the backcountry region near Vail.
“Our first record is paying homage to the traditional stuff,” Parker said, “but stuff like ‘The Bridge’ is more along the lines of the acoustic pop sound that’s migrating away from the tradition, and Sam was pretty instrumental in making that happening faster.
“We’re going to write songs that groove, that make us feel good when we play them, but don’t necessarily follow the rules of bluegrass so strictly.”
Joining them Saturday night are two other Denver bluegrass bands: Masontown, named after the old mining town on Mount Royal in Frisco, and Turkeyfoot. After the Summit County concert the band begins an East Coast tour with shows ranging from New York City to Georgia.
“It’s going to be fun.” Parker said. “I’m excited to go home and play.”
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