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Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band headlines Keystone festival

Erica Marciniec
special to the daily
Special to the DailyThe Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band headlines Bluegrass and Beer at Keystone this weekend, playing 3 p.m. concerts both Saturday and Sunday in River Run Village as well as a 9 p.m. show at Warren Station (tix are $10) on Saturday night.
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In an exciting new addition to this year’s festival, the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band headlines Bluegrass and Beer this weekend, playing 3 p.m. concerts both Saturday and Sunday in River Run Village.

The group is led by Grammy Award-winning and 5-time Grammy-nominee Rowan, a bluegrass singer-songwriter with a career spanning more than five decades. In his early years, Rowan played under the tutelage of “Father of Bluegrass” Bill Monroe, later collaborating with David Grisman in Earth Opera, Muleskinner and Old and In the Way with Jerry Garcia, to name a few. He wrote the song “Panama Red,” which became a hit for New Riders of the Purple Sage, and Jerry Garcia himself recorded Rowan’s “Moonlight Midnight” and “Mississippi Moon.” In the 1970s, Rowan played and recorded alongside brothers Chris and Lorin as The Rowan Brothers, later embarking on a well-received international solo career. Currently he plays in three bands: The Free Mexican Air Force, The Peter Rowan and Tony Rice Quartet and, of course, the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band, which headlines Keystone this weekend.

“My music is timeless and looks at life from all sides,” said the San Francisco Bay-based Rowan, whose band will bring “straight-ahead bluegrass and innovative jams” to this weekend’s festival.

Joining Rowan are “dyed-in-the wool traditional players” who are accomplished musicians in their own right. California Sierra Nevada native Keith Little (five-string banjo, vocals) toured the country for years with Country Gentlemen, Lonesome Standard Time and Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder. He has performed on the Grammy award-winning recordings “The Grass Is Blue” and “Little Sparrow” by Dolly Parton and “Another Country” by the Chieftains. He is also a featured member of the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience.

Rowan’s longtime collaborator Paul Knight (bass, vocals), known for his “driving acoustic bass,” has played and recorded with a variety of musicians including Jim Lauderdale, Laurie Lewis and Crooked Jades. He hosts his own music series, Paul Knight and Friends, in his hometown of Pt. Reyes Station, Calif., – from which the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band emerged.

Michael Witcher (dobro, vocals) began playing dobro in his family’s bluegrass band, The Witcher Brothers, at the age of 15. He has toured or recorded with Dwight Yoakam, Fernando Ortega, Laurie Lewis, Tyler Hilton, John Paul Jones and Dolly Parton, among others. A highly sought after instructor known for his rich tone and lyrical phrasing, Witcher authored two books, “Resonator Guitar – Tunes Techniques and Practice Skills” as well as “Resonator Guitar – 20 Bluegrass Jam Favorites.”

In 2010, the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band released their debut album, “Legacy,” on the roots-music label, Compass Records. Described as “a compelling set that reaffirms Rowan’s stature as an unsurpassed master of the music’s ‘ancient tones’ and its modern forms,” the album was nominated for a Grammy in 2010. “Legacy” features traditional and original compositions plus performances by Ricky Skaggs, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings and Del McCoury. The band has played numerous festivals including Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Grey Fox, Merlefest, Rothbury and Telluride.

Rowan describes a past mountain-town experience “playing bluegrass at high altitude to wild drunken skiers who climbed on stage and threw their clothes off while we played ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken'” as one of his most memorable, adding that “the girls were very pretty and knew all the words!”

In addition to their free 3 p.m. performances Saturday and Sunday, the band will play a more intimate venue Saturday night at Warren Station. Tickets are $10 for that show; doors open at 8:30 p.m. and the show starts at 9. Rowan will also give a free instructional seminar on vocal harmony at 11 a.m. Sunday at Warren Station, but get there early, as attendance is limited to the first 30 people.


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