Jon Stickley is kind of in the middle of nowhere.
At least that’s how he described it to Tahoe Onstage over the phone earlier this week, staring out somewhere in the tan vastness between Joshua Tree and Felton. His band Jon Stickley Trio had attended the Joshua Tree Music Festival days prior, playing an early afternoon set of its transcendent instrumentals to a bunch of hippies and L.A. folk. The venue was equal parts campground, art ranch and desert oasis and Stickley couldn’t have been happier. He’s always appreciated playing for the open-minded people of California, who’ve always seemed to pick up what Stickley was laying down.
“It’s one of those things where you can feel the distinct difference in the way they hear music and receive original music. I don’t know, maybe it’s the open-minded, California mindset. Maybe back East they are a little saturated with all the music that comes out there and out West it’s a little more sparsely spread out. They’re just a little more open-minded to different music, which we’re sensitive to because our music is different,” Stickley said.
What Stickley, drummer Patrick Armitage and violinist Lyndsay Pruett do together certainly is different. The trio has melded Stickley’s bluegrass flatpicking talents with the melodic prowess of Pruett’s fiddle and the power and groove of Armitage’s drums, making for an exhilarating acoustic experience that transfixes you with its unique sound. Stickley and Pruett weave bits of bluegrass, avant-jazz, rock and punk into their technical flourishes and Armitage fluidly backs them up on the beat and provides the music’s punch. It’s music that can blow your hair back or make your eyes tear, all the while done with air-tight proficiency.
Stickley never intended this whole band thing to go anywhere. He said Jon Stickley Trio was just a way to fill in gigs around his home of Asheville, North Carolina, as his main band took a break. But gigs eventually led to touring, which led to recordings CDs, which led to touring behind those releases, and Jon Stickley Trio now has become the guitarist’s main squeeze. His latest musical lovechild with the group, the album “Maybe Believe,” is the best yet, with Stickley continuing to develop and sharpen as a songwriter and musician. It’s something he has strived to do as the leader of a band that bears his name.
“Now that it is the Jon Stickley Trio and it’s moving forward, I’ve been writing more music for the trio. I would say it’s equal parts performance from the band members, though the music mostly comes from my head. Everyone carries their weight musically and the music is kind of the representation of things going on in my brain,” Stickley said.
Turns out, there is a lot going on up in that brain of his. Stickley’s innovative originals on “Maybe Believe” are supported with forward thinking covers that range from bluegrass forefather Bill Monroe to electronic luminary Aphex Twin. Stickley is set to record a new album with Andy Thorn from Leftover Salmon, a welcomed return for the guitarist to the musical possibilities of a full bluegrass lineup. Then there’s music for the trio, which is always bubbling up in Stickley’s mind.
“With the trio, I’m always thinking about new experiments we can try. I think about different beats and rhythms a lot, from rap or hip-hop or Latin music. Like, man it would be fun to write a song based around that groove or chord progressions that stand out in my head. Or an idea about structureless song, a free-form jam type song. Those are all different things we want to do. One thing we’ve always stayed away from is open-ended jams, we keep a tight structure. But we’ve done that to such an extent that now we want to free-form jam a little bit (laughs),” Stickley said.
The Jon Stickley Trio strays away from the trodden trails of music and has become a creative force of nature as it continues to create and explore its own sonic landscape. Stickley really is out in the middle of nowhere, musically speaking, but he seems quite comfortable out there.
- Jon Stickley Trio
Opener: Brad Parsons Band
When: 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14
Where: Moe’s Original BBQ, Tahoe City