Budding bluegrass: Kyle Ledson works his way back home

Kyle Ledson opens for Kanekoa in the Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room on June 25.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Tahoe must feel like home turf for burgeoning bluegrass player Kyle Ledson.

Ledson’s roots are from Incline Village and this summer the Chico State student has played mandolin and guitar at various venues around Lake Tahoe with his band Broken Compass Bluegrass. He also had an unforgettable solo appearance at the Crystal Bay Casino, opening for — and later jamming with — the Hawaiian ukulele band Kanekoa.

“Kyle never gets nervous, but I think he had a few nerves for Crystal Bay,” said father Jeff Ledson, who was born and raised at Incline Village. Mother Christina was born in Carson City and moved to Incline when she was an elementary school student.

The family moved off the grid in 2008 to Camptonville — population 179 — in Sierra County off Highway 49 between Nevada City and Downieville.

“With no TV and not a lot of electronics, I had a lot of time when I was either playing outside or playing music,” Kyle Ledson said. “I got quite a few hours in every day.”

Kanekoa, a quartet with instrumentation of three ukuleles and a cajon, considers the young virtuoso a kindred spirit. Ledson shared the stage with the Hawaiians at the Crazy Horse Saloon in Nevada City, where he’s played numerous times, and the next night, June 25, at the Crystal Bay Casino.

CBC’s Crown Room opened in December 2004, featuring different types of music, especially blues, jam and New Orleans bands. Over the years it became apparent the local crowd’s most popular music is bluegrass. The venue showcased rising bluegrass groups such as Trampled By Turtles, Brothers Comatose, The T Sisters, Sierra Hull, Greensky Bluegrass, Hot Buttered Rum, and established bands such as Yonder Mountain String Band, Leftover Salmon and Sam Bush.

Ledson sits in with Kanekoa at in the Crown Room. Kaulana Kanekoa is in the middle and Travis Rice is on the right.

Now Ledson is among the litany of string artists to have played in the Crown Room.

“That was legendary because we were going to shows there seeing all our favorites and dreaming one day our kid will be up there,” Jeff Ledson said.

After a 40-minute opening in front of an enthusiastic audience, Kyle Ledson joined Kanekoa for the final three songs of the night. He was featured for solos on each tune, to the delight of a prideful hometown crowd.

Kanekoa’s lead player, Vince Esquire, 37, has been with the band since he was 15. Gregg Allman was so impressed with Esquire, he brought him to New York’s Beacon Theatre to open for the Allman Brothers.

“I think that’s why they bonded,” Jeff Ledson said. “I think Kyle’s story grabbed them by the heart.”

Esquire is impressed with Ledson’s musicianship.

“Kyle has a very nice future ahead of him,” he said. “I didn’t do my work with Gregg until I was 22 or 23 and his ability — and especially his technical ability — is far beyond where I was at 20 years old. I already know he’s going to be doing some incredible things within the next five to 10 years. There’s a plan in the works to bring him out to Maui and possibly do some kind of studio project.”

Calling Ledson a natural might be a dismissive to his extensive practice. But music was his natural environment.

“It’s like motor skills, like talking is for us,” said his father, who took his son each year to the Strawberry Music Festival in Yosemite and Father’s Day Festival in Grass Valley, which had a children’s fiddle workshop. Kyle started on fiddle when he was 3 years old. He took up the “guitar version of a violin” when he was 6.

“All the cool kids were playing the mandolin, so I knew I had to try that one out, too,” he said.

Broken Compass Bluegrass: Django Ruckrich, left, Sam Jacobs, Mei Lin Heirendt and Kyle Ledson.

He met two of his future Broken Compass Bluegrass bandmates at the kids’ camp, Django Ruckrich and Mei Lin Heirendt.

The father and son duo opened a show for Brothers Comatose when Kyle was in eighth grade. Soon thereafter, Kyle Ledson made his first record.

“Kyle passed me up around the time he was 7,” Jeff Ledson said. “I didn’t want to be an anchor slowing him down. I wanted him to just launch.”

Nate Keefe of Hot Buttered Rum produced the album, which includes session players Bryan Horne and Erik Yates. The T Sisters and Molly Tuttle also contributed.

While making the record, Ledson stayed in a hotel in San Francisco’s Mission District, a big city far away from his country home.

“When I’m anxious, I act weird in my sleep,” Ledson said. “I slept walked out of our hotel room that night. The door locked behind me. Luckily, I didn’t go far.”

Cosmic Frog: Aidan Steckley, Gavin Morier, Hana Ulep and Kyle Ledson.

Ledson did have to go far when it was time for high school. There were four students in Ledson’s graduating eighth-grade class, but 400 in his class at Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley, which he traveled 33 winding miles to attend. A college junior next fall, Ledson chose Chico State to study recording arts. He and his roommates have a rock band, Cosmic Frog.

“When Covid calmed down and I was able to go to Chico in person I had to find a place to live,” he said. “Instead of choosing the dorms, which is not ideal for me, a couple of friends of mine who I met through the recording arts program reached out to live together. We all share a deep love for the Grateful Dead and Phish and a lot of other jam bands. This is my first experimentation into the electric side of things. I’m loving it.”

Broken Compass Bluegrass plays at 7 p.m. Sunday, July 10, at Moe’s Original BBQ in Tahoe City.

-Tim Parsons

ABOUT Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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