Bluegrass music finds itself at a glorious time in its existence, when some of the most legendary players and pickers still regularly grace the stages while a new, hyper-talented group of stars emerges to energize and invigorate the sound and presentation of this music.
No one might be riding higher within that expanding sphere than Molly Tuttle, the heroic and award-winning guitarist who records her own material but has skyrocketed as of late in leading her rousing bluegrass gang, Golden Highway.
Her and her bandmates’ year reads like an extended celebration: It started with a Grammy win for the group’s 2022 acclaimed debut, Crooked Tree, that preceded the summertime release of its second album, City of Gold; in the fall, at an event she helped host, Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway were presented with two IBMA awards and Molly one herself, Female Vocalist of the Year.
Listen to the second studio album from Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway, City of Gold, via Spotify:
A quick inspection of Tuttle and her band on Instagram reveals bright smiles, loud cackles, playful talk show appearances, good times galore and a style all to their own. It’s the reward for a unit out on the road delighting crowds from city to city, introducing new listeners young and old to bluegrass and revitalizing it to the pleasure of longtime fans.
This merry, talented crew brought its infectious frolic and inspirited songs to the nation’s capital the night of Nov. 21 for what turned out to be an unforgettable pre-holiday bash at a sold-out 9:30 Club.
A venue Tuttle said she’d longed to play, she and her team delivered with a stirring set of music that pulled from the band’s two records, along with a few festive covers and some band-member originals as well.
Along with Molly, Golden Highway is violinist Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, a two-time IBMA fiddler of the year honoree, upright bass player Shelby Means, mandolinist Dominick Leslie, and banjo player Kyle Tuttle, who, despite all the lingering confusion, is still unrelated to, still unmarried to and has never been dating his bandmate with the same last name.
But what they are as a squad of five is a tight, well-oiled machine that showed its abilities by wowing the audience with precise, downright nasty rhythms to spark the boogie and with lovely, uplifting harmonies guided in stunning fashion by the band’s leader, Molly.
Tuttle said she’d been so thrilled to play the storied V Street club that she even began the process of creating a special song for the occasion, but — honest and comfortable with her screaming fans — she said she abandoned it after a spooky dream in which she forgot those lyrics.
As many have learned, Molly has alopecia universalis, a condition that leads to the loss of all the hair on her body. And as she has regularly on this recent fall tour, she staged her own costume change later in the set — simply removing her wig in a powerful gesture and, amid impassioned cheers, signaling to a fellow “alopecian” who’d been proudly jamming and enjoying the show close to the barricade.
“I grew up feeling sometimes afraid and sometimes embarrassed,” she told the crowd in an emotional display of bravery. “Over time, I realized what I thought was a weakness was a strength … my hidden superpower.”
While fans might not have gotten the custom 9:30 Club ditty last Tuesday night — maybe next time — they certainly witnessed and heard Tuttle and her friends in magnificent form.
Those fortunate to be in the room took in many of the favorites off the two Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway albums, as well as a grand cover of “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane and a beautiful take on The Byrds’ tuneful “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” to close out a memorable and joyous evening.
Revisit the first studio album from Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway, the award-winning Crooked Tree, via Spotify:
Down Home Dispensary
Open Water (Bronwyn Keith-Hynes)
Old Man at the Mill (The Dillards)
Alice in the Bluegrass
White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane)
Sleepy Eyed-John (Johnny Horton)
The First Time I Fell in Love
Over the Line
Take the Journey (Molly Tuttle)
More Like a River
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (The Byrds)
Here are 35mm home-developed/home-scanned images of Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway along with the night’s opening act, Willi Carlisle, performing at 9:30 Club on Nov. 21, 2023. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Ryan Vock.