It’s difficult to find a followership more addicted to its favorite music than the growing network of bluegrass fans.
And artists, too, seem to acknowledge that this form — evolved out of old-time string music and first popularized by Bill Monroe — is indeed a fever-inducing obsession that only seems to fester more and more with each passing day.
Some of the most prestigious pickers and pluckers, while masters of various styles, just can’t get enough — they love the sound, feel, and spirit of bluegrass, and they relish in the act of playing and sharing in it with others.
There’s no deeper mystery behind Mighty Poplar, a recently formed bluegrass outfit boasting some of the most beloved players in all the land: Chris Eldridge and Noam Pikelny (Punch Brothers), Andrew Marlin (Watchhouse), Greg Garrison (Leftover Salmon), and Alex Hargreaves (Billy Strings).
Each of these men has a wildly impressive resume on his own, yet this past spring they assembled, forming a Voltron of musical abilities and ambitions, but with a decided focus on bluegrass classics and some modern compositions as well.
Listen to Mighty Poplar’s self-titled album via Spotify:
After a well-received West Coast run in the spring, Mighty Poplar put together a series of dates across the back half of September to introduce this formidable posse to select music-loving cities — minus Hargreaves, who is on tour with Billy Strings.
The jaunt included a stop last Thursday night at The Hamilton Live, one of the capital’s best spots for string bands to shine their brightest and sound their best.
In front of a packed house on Sept. 28, Pikelny — who, alongside the Fredericksburg, Va. native Eldridge, won a Grammy award as a member of Punch Brothers — told the audience that he “blamed bluegrass” for bringing him and his musician friends together in this new format.
Watch Mighty Poplar perform “Up on the Divide” live via the Free Dirt Records YouTube channel:
“Bluegrass is like rabies … it’s fatal if it’s not treated,” he cracked.
But all joking aside, this thoughtful, elegant five-piece group — with the outstanding Shad Cobb filling in on fiddle — delighted the downstairs space with a rich set of tunes, including each track from the self-titled album released on Free Dirt Records back in March.
A rare opportunity to see such accomplished figures playing songs simply for the joy of it, the inspiriting night provided an eye-opening taste of bluegrass’ intoxicating bliss through the scope of world-class entertainers.
Kicking up the Devil/Dr. Hecock’s Jig
A Distant Land To Roam
Up on the Divide
Bonny George Campbell
When I Was a Cowboy
Let Him Go On Mama
Look Down That Lonesome Road
Ain’t Nobody Gonna Miss Me
North Country Blues
Story of Isaac
Here are images of Mighty Poplar performing at The Hamilton Live in DC on Sept. 28, 2023. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Ryan Vock.