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Rowan picks his way to Keystone Saturday

KIMBERLY NICOLETTI
Special to the DailyPeter Rowan is the real thing when it comes to bluegrass
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KEYSTONE – Peter Rowan is the real thing when it comes to bluegrass.The Grammy-award winner began his career playing guitar, singing lead vocals and co-writing as a member of the Bluegrass Boys, led by the founding father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe.In 1973, he and David Grisman, Jerry Garcia, Vassar Clements and John Kahn got together and recorded “Old & In the Way,” one of the best-selling bluegrass albums of all time. The fame ultimately led Rowan to a solo career, releasing critically acclaimed recordings such as “Dustbowl Children,” a Woody-Guthrie-style work about the Great Depression, and “Yonder,” an old-time country music recording.He gained a reputation as one of the major cult bluegrass artists of the 1980s, earning a following through his independently released albums, constant touring, and, of course, yodeling.

Many of Rowan’s albums are a type of journey – both literally and figuratively – for him.”I wrote ‘Dustbown Children’ on the road,” Rowan said on his Web site. “Often I get a better idea artistically who I am in a different country, because I don’t fit in as part of the culture and so I find myself standing out in high relief, and you’re treated that way too.”His 1993 recording, “Awake Me in the New World,” was a personal journey, meant to complete a vision that started with “Land of the Navajo.”His latest solo release, “Bluegrass Boy,” is a timely homage to his mentor, Monroe. One song, “Let the Harvest Go to Seed,” shares the musical and spiritual legacy Monroe left.

“Until the last few years, he’d be plowing with his mule behind the cabin at his farm in Goodlettsville, Tenn.,” Rowan said. “I was saying to one of his assistants that this really is the backbone of bluegrass, that the father still plows his earth behind a mule – such a romantic idea, really. And the assistant said, ‘Yes, but he never harvests anymore.’ And I thought, ‘He’s still alive and planting but letting the harvest go to seed, letting the wild birds and critters have something to eat, returning substance to the soil.’ “That’s how bluegrass is today. There are pop offshoots, but there’s still the great cultural lineage in the haunting, otherworldly overtones of the original, pure, high lonesomeness of Bill Monroe. Maybe he won’t be there to plow his field, but he’s left us the seeds.”A practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, Rowan compares Monroe’s music to the poets and painters of the 7th century Chinese Tang dynasty, who portrayed the “high lonesomeness” he believes Monroe embodied in his bluegrass.”(Monroe) used to tell me, ‘You can try to get away from bluegrass, Pete, but it will always call you back,'” he said.

And Monroe was right. Rowan has been a favorite at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and Saturday, he picks his way into Keystone’s Bluegrass and Beer festival.For tickets to the 8 p.m. show: (970) 496-4FUN, (888) 222-9306 or http://www.ticketswest.comKimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245, or at knicoletti@summitdaily.com.


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