Sierra Hull: New newgrass rises through the snow

Tahoe Onstage
Sierra Hull and Ethan Jodziewicz captivate the Red Room during an an acoustic set at Tahoe.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Larry Sabo

This time, the improvisation occurred off the stage.

In a year filled with snowstorms and power outages, Lake Tahoe experienced one more round of that on a freezing May evening when bluegrass artist Sierra Hull was to perform. Just before the show was scheduled to begin in the Crown Room, Crystal Bay Casino’s general manager, staff and even ticket-holders carried 100 or so chairs into the smaller Red Room, where acoustics would be better for two-instrument show.

Hull, a 25-year-old mandolinist, and upright bass player Ethan Jodziewicz stepped onstage, and Hull announced, “This is the advantage of acoustic instruments. The show will go on!”

Sierra Hull

The duo captivated the audience with an eloquently virtuosic blend of bluegrass, jazz and classical music. The bartender was dexterous, too, managing to avoid clinking glasses and gently pouring ice, while thin curtains separated the Red Room from the casino.

“This is my first time at Crystal Bay and it might be might be my first time in a casino,” Hull said. “There’s a party out there and there’s a party in here.”

“If you can’t hear, come on up; don’t’ be shy,” Jodziewicz said. “You can even pull your chairs on the stage,” Hull added.

Ethan JodziewiczThe duo took requests, played covers by Loretta Lynn, Curtis Mayfield and Johann Sebastian Bach, but mostly it performed songs from Hull’s 2016 Grammy-nominated record, “Weighted Mind,” a thematic album about the concerns and emotions of a pensive young woman reaching adulthood. For Hull, it was what was in her head at the age of 22.

“I’m 25 now,” she said. “Things are looking up.”

Produced by banjo superstar Bela Fleck, “Weighted Mind” was a new concept for Hull, whose previous records were made with a full ensemble. The new sound was stripped down with mostly just Hull’s voice and her and Jodziewicz’s strings.

“As I would drive to Bela Fleck’s house to talk about the album, the radio kept playing a song that went, ‘It’s All About That Bass,’” Hull laughed.

While a Grammy went to Meghan Trainor for her catchy tune about her bass, Hull’s sound will have a lasting resonance.

Bluegrass evolved in the 1970s with the New Grass Revival led by Sam Bush, Fleck and artists such as double bassist Edgar Meyer. Jodziewicz studied under Meyer and Hull was a preteen when she first collaborated with fiddler Alison Krauss.

Hull and Jodziewicz are the next generation of newgrass. Maybe call it new newgrass. On this night, it was Red Room grass, too brilliant to be toned down by a snowstorm and power outage.

-Tim Parsons
Click to see all of Larry Sabo’s photos.

  • Set list
    May 6, 2017
    Crystal Bay Casino
    1 – Weighted Mind
    2 – Stranded
    3 – Compass
    4 – Unknown instrumental (Johann Sebastian Bach)
    5 – Unknown instrumental
    6 – Queen of Hearts
    7 – You Wanna to Give Me a Lift (Loretta Lynn)
    8 – Wings of the Dawn
    9 – The Hard Way
    10 – Black River
    11 – Best Buy
    12 – Dancing with the Bugs
    13 – Unknown instrumental
    14 – Lullaby
    15 – People Get Ready (Curtis Mayfield)
    16 – Mad World
    17 – I’ll Be Fine
    18 – The In Between

    Related story: Sierra Hull goes on the record with Tahoe Onstage.

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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