Blue Ox 2019!

by Max Paley

Top 4 Surprises from Blue Ox Music Festival 2019

Due to some old music connections from my days in a full-time touring bluegrass band, I got the chance to attend the Blue Ox Music Festival just outside of Eau Claire, WI the summer of 2019. It was so revitalizing to see my old friends in Pert Near Sandstone, the Lowest Pair, the Lil Smokies, the Jeff Austin Band and Billy Strings, and to get to meet some new friends playing in bands that are still climbing the festival circuit ladder. But the thing that impressed me the most about the festival was the hospitality. The Bischel family that owns the land puts on a big country music festival every year called the Ramble Jam and has done so for years. Their experience in hosting big events was noticeable right from the start, with orderly entry to the festival and well-trained volunteer and staff members to make sure everything went smoothly throughout the Blue Ox Music Fest from an operational standpoint.

The Blue Ox festival stands apart from many of the other bluegrass festivals open to the public around the country, both in the caliber and quantity of bluegrass talent they convince to visit the Big Woods of the north and in the welcoming, inclusive atmosphere they promote to bluegrass fans willing to brave the elements and the drive to one of the best bluegrass festivals of 2019! These were the biggest for me at Blue Ox.

1.       Early Arrival – I grew up going to a bluegrass festival in Winfied, KS where festival attendees showed up early. Sometimes, inappropriately early, setting out tarps to claim their camping space weeks or even months in advance of the festival. I also know that pro attendees of some of the major festivals in Colorado like the Telluride Bluegrass Fest and Rockygrass also show up a week or more in advance to set up camp. But the Blue Ox attendees took it to another level. Maybe it’s because attendees were allowed to pull their RVs into the reserved camping area, or maybe it is just that Minnesota and Wisconsin folks love to camp so much but the early arrival scene at Blue Ox was a pleasant surprise. I showed up on Thursday afternoon, well before the first act of the festival took the stage at 5pm Thursday, and the festival already felt full what with all of the early arrivals. Two thumbs up!

2.       Hospitality for Artists – I was at the Blue Ox to teach a mandolin workshop and was presented with a backstage “artist” bracelet when I got there. The hospitality for artists absolutely blew my mind: there was a wide assortment of teas, water, coffee, soda, unlimited free beer (well, until about Saturday at 7pm by which time we had finished it all off), massage therapists who were paid by the festival with free entry and then working for tips for the musicians and there was even a kitchen serving two hot meals a day! The festival hosts Pert Near Sandstone have surely been aghast, as many of us road musicians have, at the “backstage” areas of many festivals that have little more than a shade tent and water for musicians. At Blue Ox, the hosts built elaborate tent setups with nice couches, charging stations for cell phones and other electronics and tables and chair for the musicians all backstage and out of the public eye. Again, two thumbs up on artist hospitality at Blue Ox!

3.        Boats and Bluegrass Family Stage – Just up the river from Eau Claire is a little town in Minnesota called Winona, and they host an annual bluegrass festival called Boats and Bluegrass. This quiet little festival is chock full of Northern talent and features bands from the Pacific Northwest, Idaho, Wisconsin and of course Minnesota. I got to play there years ago with the Blackberry Bushes string band, part of the way I met all of these northern bluegrass folks. Anyways, Blue Ox collaborated with Boats and Bluegrass for the 2019 fest to host a family-friendly stage featuring a morning stretch and yoga for all ages, craft hour, face painting and more for the kids at the festival. And man were there kids! Blue Ox is 100% family friendly and lots of families took advantage of a chance to unleash their kids into the feral unknowns of daytime bluegrass music festivals. The family stage was a big hit with the kids, and happy kids mean happy parents which means happy campers all around!

4.       Music Workshops – Lots of bluegrass festivals have workshops or academies that run prior to the festival with some of the talent scheduled to perform later. At Blue Ox, the hosts invited musicians who teach to present workshops for festival attendees in guitar, mandolin, banjo and fiddle. The workshops were made available to festival goers free of charge, and took place in the morning before lunchtime and before music fired up on the main stages. I taught the mandolin workshop which was quite well attended by more than 15 mandolin enthusiasts of varying levels of experience and confidence. I was able to attend the guitar workshop before my workshop, and there were close to 15 attendees learning guitar basics as well. Providing these instrument workshops free of charge is just another example of how Pert Near Sandstone and the Blue Ox crew are pushing to promote acoustic music in the Twin Lakes region and get their friends involved in the festival as workshop instructors and workshop attendees.

The Blue Ox 2019 Music Festival really blew me away. It was professionally organized and executed and I had a chance to meet so many talented musicians, artists, photographers and dancers (yes, there were live aerial displays at the festival!). I’ve attended dozens of festivals in my life (hundreds?) as both an artist and a festival-goer and I have to say that the Blue Ox 2019 exceeded my expectations in so many ways. I hope you can make it next year and we can get surprised together with whatever the hosts have in store for us at my new favorite bluegrass festival of the summer!

Bottlerocket Hurricane

Globe Hall 2/20/2020

A storm is coming in Denver.

The warning signs were all there. Frontwoman Colleen Murphy has been involved in the acoustic scene in Denver for the last 5 years or more, most notably with the all-female bluegrass group Pistols in Petticoats. After that band crossed the Rainbow Bridge, conditions were just right to form Bottlerocket Hurricane. Murphy wanted to continue her streak of promoting women musicians and has always had at least one other woman in the band with her, including in its most recent iteration with Charlotte Mason backing her up on vocals and playing light percussion.

Bottlerocket Hurricane stormed the stage at Globe Hall on Thursday, February 20th as support for Nashville’s Molly Tuttle. The show was sold out, or as close as you could come to a sellout, which might be intimidating to some groups. Not Bottlerocket Hurricane. From the perspective of the audience it appeared that all of these seasoned musicians were comfortable in their own skin on stage and proud of the product they were presenting.

Featuring three and four part harmonies, outstanding musicianship on the fiddle (George Sepmeier), mandolin (Jack Laub), bass (Don O’Gorman), percussion (Dan Pink) and guitar (Ben Hanrahan) as well as captivating songwriting from both Murphy and Hanrahan, the February 2020 incarnation of Bottlerocket Hurricane is the best one yet. While the sold-out crowd was decidedly in attendance at Globe Hall due to Molly Tuttle’s headlining spot, more than a few left the show wondering when they would get to experience Bottlerocket Hurricane’s gale-force sound again.

On this night, as they would find on most nights with this group, they were not disappointed in the passion and ability of this group. All forecasts point to Bottlerocket Hurricane settling over Denver and the Front Range and dousing us with their lovely music for some time to come.

Bluegrass Generals with Turkeyfoot at Cervantes 4/26/2019 





The sold-out crowd at Cervantes Ballroom was beginning to stir with excitement as Turkeyfoot’s first notes rang out, to start out a night worth prying into. These guys eased the crowd into a warm feeling, and a portrait of a different time. Timeless indeed is their sound, and it has a power to draw you in. 


This local Denver group brings together members from London, Texas, Montana, as well as two Colorado boys, and is comprised of a realtor, a family physician, a landman, a barista, and a fiiiiiine cheese salesman. They were brought together from many walks of life with a common thread – their love for Bluegrass. Seeing them play live, it’s easy to tell. This group is just having a blast on stage and bursting at the seams with an expression of contentment, like this is right where they need to be. Their music has an old timey country sound, fueled by Bridger on fiddle that enhances this feeling, as well as all the members taking turns singing their songs, bringing it all together masterfully.  It reminds me of taking an old dirt road… reminds me of home. 


The band’s name, Turkeyfoot, comes from the big bluestem grass that grows across the prairies of Oklahoma and Texas, and beyond. This past year, Turkeyfoot took second place in the Rockygrass Band Contest, a prize that has been known to launched the careers of bands in the past.  Although the band fell shy of winning, they were the top Colorado band to place. 


Jordan Brandenburg (Mandolin), Michael Rudolph (Dr. Bass), Bridger Dunnagan (Fiddle), Dave Pailet (Guitar), and Alex Koukov (Banjo) make up this band, and they have some great skill and togetherness on stage. They had an ability to start the crowd up like a diesel engine, into a growing sway…. And by the end of their set they were absolutely flying. The crowd was amped by the time they left the stage, these guys were a great start to the night. We’ll be excited to see them more as they continue to grow here in the area! 


Bridger Dunnagan


David Pailet


Michael Rudolph


Jordan Brandenburg 


Alex Koukov




            Billy Strings, Guitar. Chris Pandolfi, Banjo & Andy Hall, Steel Guitar (Infamous Stringdusters). Mimi Naja, Mandolin (Fruition). Mike Devol, Bass (Greensky Bluegrass). 

            The Energy was pulsing through the room miles before the band even took the stage. After a time, the house music started to fade, and the awaited time had begun. One of the first songs was Billy Strings’ “Dust in a Baggie,” Which sent the crowd into a frenzy. This group of players was absolutely awe inspiring to watch. Andy Hall on Steel was electric dynamite. It was great to watch these players surprise even eachother on stage with their amazing skill and power on the instruments they wield. That seemed to be a common move where Andy was concerned, playing the Steel Guitar with such intensity to leave absolutely everbody dumbfounded. Mimi Naja’s voice will bring you to tears. Her murder ballads and songs of Northern towns encapsulate you, and she gets the groove under your feet and picks you right up… then tears ya down with some absolutely firey mandolin. 

            They got in to the thick of it and brought it right out into the open. Traded songs back and forth with such ease, with members from these different amazing groups coming together for this occasion. I was continuously ecstatic to be captured in that moment. Any care from the outside world had no power here, and was cast into the abyss. Tonight was immortal. 

            One of my favorite moments of the night was the song Mike Devol sang as well. What a force, that one. Absolutely killing it, all while steering the ship on bass. Chris Pandolfi was unbelievable on banjo, filling up the room to it’s outermost reaches, with rippling notes bursting forth in immense speed. They’d occasionally add effects as well to really turn upside into down. 

            Billy Strings is an old soul. He plays and sings as if from a past life. Amazing to watch, and somewhat hard to explain. His songs and presence are as addictive as that dust he sings of. I don’t know if he plays guitar or guitar plays him… but I’m sure his guitar knows. 

All of these players were trading licks and battling lines throughout the night, with an ascending madness that left you smiling ear to ear - it was a spectacle. A true moment in history, that one… and it’s sound was booming. The crowd ebbed and flowed like so many waves on the shore, eager to be brought to storm and back to rest with a word. As a fellow player, this was such a truly inspiring show to be a part of, that I will personally carry into future shows, and thus the spark continues. 

After hours, the night was drawing to a close.  As true soldiers, they came back out to serve for one more song… pulled the pin out, and blew the place apart. Mimi started singing the opening lyrics to CCR’s  “Fortunate Son” and the place erupted. 

It was an honor Generals - Salute. 





“The Road goes on forever and the party never ends” 

-Josh Bower, Denver Jamgrass

Photos by Elliot Siff

Jeff Austin Band / Old Salt Union / Ghost Town Drifters 4-18-2019 



Local Artist Spotlight  

The Ghost Town Drifters bring their Galactic space-grass to the base of the 
mountains as the reddish purple sun sets behind the ridge, and the rings of a 
distant moon start to glisten at the last fading light. As a blinding Supernova, a 
strong bright presence emanates from front man Oren Paisner, undertaking 
mandolin with mastery, strapped side-arm, loosely holding on with a tight savage 
grip at the helm. Scott Vincent on upright bass is free from gravity, flying about 
the stage lightly somehow, with that juggernaut of bass driving the rhythm 
through space. Tom Muller on guitar is like a comet, notes spreading like tracers 
into the void, fire floating to meet again somewhere down the line, ever reaching 
to new heights. And to bind together the enterprise that is Ghost Town Drifters, 
meet the Doctor - Joey Purmort. Keeping a cool head through the firestorm, he 
dons his uniform, steps into the domain of stars, and lightly nods rhythmically as 
he executes surgery on the vessel that is the Banjo. These boys play songs about 
Moonshinin’, Runnin’, Truckin’, Movin’… and most of these roads, it would seem, 
lead them into the realm of Space Travel. A feeling of the great unknown sweeps 
through the croud and welcomes them. Beautiful harmonies litter throughout the 
sky and hold it all together, and they sure do bring with them some Chop Suey! All 
of this creates a Grasstime Continuum – these guys sure are a great part of the 
jamgrass scene here in Colorado. 

Oren Paisner fares from Maryland as a lad, where he and a few friends found a 
Mandolin and a Banjo in his family home at about 17, and not long after this, 
attended a bluegrass jam at a bar at the Crossroads in a cornfield, so goes the 
That’s all he needed. He was Immersed. Obsessed. He started studying the likes 
of Monroe, Flatt, and Scruggs, and honing his craft. In 2012 He met Joey Purmort, 
after coming from Exile through Kansas to find the foothills of the Rockies at last. 
Through the years their travels brought them to find Scotty and Tom. They have 
since continued playing, together and in different groups, until just last year 

decided to join forces together, with the help of a fateful Disc floating through the 
wind, and so thus was formed GHOST TOWN DRIFTERS



Jeff Austin band with Old Salt Union and Ghost Town Drifters.

Cervante's Other Side 4/18/2019  


These boys started out the night at Cervantes, coming out the gate with a swirling  
notion of Galaxy-grass. The band Ghost Town Drifters is a newer name in the  
jamgrass scene here in Colorado, with some players that have been at it a good  
number of years. A very well put together group of guys, and very fun to watch!  
Lead man Oren plays the mandolin loosely strapped over one arm, with great  
speed, ferocity, and they all come together to stagger the mind! Precision Banjo,  
Fluid intricate guitar and booming energetic bass come together with a big  
Planetary sound that will leave your gaze entranced. These guys bring a great  
feeling to the stage, like a space western with mad bluegrass gunfights lighting  
the sky on fire . Excited to see them continue to grow in the scene here. A great  
way to set the scene, and start out the night with Jeff Austin.


Audio from Ghost Town Drifters


Nitty Gritty Smash-Grass. A Force to Be Reckoned With. Road Worn Warriors. 
From the first note of the stand up bass, the band came forth with a shot. Jesse Farrar  was breaking IN that thing and getting down, immediately… you knew 
you were in for a time with these guys. You could feel The Road emanating from 
their every note, that force that little but the evermoving horizon can bring. They 

yearned for it, bringing an axe with them to cleave the emptiness, and drink down 
its remains. A group of madmen, this lot. Hailing from St Louis, MO on a tour that 
brought them to the shores of the western shores of this land and back around to 
meet the mountains of Colorado; they got a big start here in the history that they 
have written so far, and feel quite at home at their return - reunited with old 
faces and glasses full. By the way, these guys absolutely shred!! They know how 
to rapidly tear down your situation, and before your realization cast out an 
amalgamation. They grasp out and find the pieces and let them fall themselves 
into place as the notes fall like winded rain upon the mountainside. If you see 
their name on a building, go inside. 

audio from Old Salt Union



Jeff Austin needs no introduction. Jeff Austin is the Introduction. 

Jeff Austin bends space and time to his will. With eyes focused, Jeff Austin makes 
fire appear directly in his open palm, where before there was nothing. He looked 
directly into my eyes from a great distance, and locked my gaze, and I was 
powerless. His eyes tell a story, and his voice brings it out and beckons you in. 
Jeff Austin makes mountains move. Jeff Austin brings the Devil out of the Room. 

He had some great players with him on this Thursday night, one of the best banjo 
players I have ever seen trading lines with him all night into the realm of madness, 
as the Jeff Austin Band brought ebb and flow of wave and wave crashing down on 
us all. The young guitar player was absolutely incredible, playing with precision 
and speed equal to his counterparts, all rounded together absolutely breathlessly 
with skillful and powerfully wrought rhythm of Jean-Luc on bass. A long song of 
beautifully wound threads brought with it a moment of clarity, that lifted us all off 
the ground, and after a time, we were brought swinging back down with wide

eyes, yes and a smile that just wouldn’t quit. These 4 kept the room more than alive  

and well, and we can’t thank them enough for the gift that night. Keep changing  
lives out there. 

Jeff Austin Band 



The road never stops and the party never ends – 
-Josh Bower, Denver Jamgrass