(Sugar Hill, 2009): The annual Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival kicks off today at Walsh Farm in Oak Hill, and you can catch performances but lots of great veteran musicians, including Del McCoury, Ricky Skaggs, Tim O’Brien, Marty Stuart and Peter Rowan.
But one of the brightest new discoveries of this year’s fest is likely to be the sparkling, multi-talented 17-year-old Sarah Jarosz. Don’t be fooled by her tender age; she’s been jamming on stage with the likes of Skaggs and David Grisman since she was 12.
On this debut album, she plays mandolin, guitar, clawhammer banjo and piano. She’s stunning – and subtle – singer, too. And a pretty excellent songwriter. Oh yeah, and she co-produced the album with Grammy Award-winner Gary Paczosa.
Obviously, Jarosz is not your typical teenager. She’s not your typical bluegrass musician, either. In fact, this isn’t really a bluegrass album at all, although I have no doubt that she could certainly conjure one up if that was her desire.
But this is exquisite Americana, new-acoustic music spiced with bluegrass and old-timey flavorings. Her two instrumental turns, “Masinneedof” and “Fischer Store Road,” simply crackle, and elsewhere – especially on the Hurricane Katrina ballad “Broussard’s Lament” – she isn’t afraid to pepper her lyrics with a decidedly political point of view.
And just to give you an idea of her musical range, the two covers that she’s chosen to include are the Decemberists’ “Shankhill Butchers” and Tom Waits’ “Come On Up to the House.”
She gets ample support from an all-star gaggle of musicians – Jerry Douglas, Chris Thile, Stuart Duncan, Ben Sollee, Mike Marshall, Tim O’Brien, Abigail Washburn and others – but this is unquestionably Jarosz’s album. Let’s hope it’s the first of many, many more to come.
Jarosz serves up main stage performances at Grey Fox at 3pm Friday and 11am Saturday.