Trout Steak Revival to launch ‘The Light We Bring’ tour in Aspen
IF YOU GO …
What: An Evening with Trout Steak Revival
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Sunday, Feb. 2, 10 p.m.
How much: $15
Tickets: Belly Up box office; bellyupaspen.com
When the Denver-based bluegrass band Trout Steak Revival was starting out a decade ago, they dreamed about playing at Belly Up Aspen.
In those days, before winning the 2014 band competition at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and before their reign as arguably the best string outfit in Colorado and as seasonal regulars at Belly Up, they were, in banjo player Travis McNamara’s words, “a crappy bar band.”
“We were always like, ‘What do we have to do to be a real band and play a place like the Belly Up in Aspen?’” McNamara recalled recently from home in Denver. “It was this marker for us of bands that had put it together and had made it.”
So it’s particularly sweet for McNamara and his bandmates to be coming to Aspen this weekend to celebrate the release of their fifth studio album, “The Light We Bring,” and to launch a 25-date tour at Belly Up on Super Bowl Sunday.
Trout Steak has always embodied the open-minded, experimentation-friendly Colorado bluegrass tradition, the rebellious and progressive wing of the American bluegrass community that centers around the Telluride festival and the legacy of Sam Bush. Unconcerned about genre distinctions and bluegrass pieties, from the start Trout Steak has brought in elements of varied folk traditions, rock and pop to make its sincere and un-fussy bluegrass-based songs.
“The thing we love about Colorado, about playing music here, and about that Telluride bluegrass tradition is that it is open, it’s free,” McNamara said. “Whatever it is, we are free to incorporate it. That, I think, is what allows a band like Trout Steak to flourish and do what we want.”
“The Light We Bring” sees the four-piece band stretching themselves yet further, though, with the additions of brass, woodwinds, orchestral strings and some surprising inspirations.
The new song “Take Heart,” for example, was born out of McNamara’s experimentation with electronic music. He’d been nerding out on Bonobo after seeing the livetronica artist in Denver, and was trying to recreate Bonobo’s track “Break Apart” on an Ableton sequencer to figure out how he did it.
“He’s got this horn arrangement that starts coming in halfway through the song — it’s this fresh layer of lazy saxophone and trumpet,” McNamara explained. “They’re not big solo parts, they’re just these supporting parts. I really liked that, so I was like, ‘Wow, what if that is on (the new album)?’”
After a June recording session at Mighty Fine Productions in Denver, McNamara and his bandmates started reaching out to diverse musicians around the Front Range, scouting for new sounds to integrate into the Trout Stake formula and layer into the new songs. They brought in cellists and violists and Denver jazz stalwarts like Kneebody trumpeter Shane Endsley and clarinetist Mark Harris.
“It was amazing to watch these guys take little sections of songs and layer trumpets and come up with all these great ideas,” McNamara said. “We just wanted to run with that, and we got these happy accidents where people got lost in the music. It was amazing.”
They’d originally planned on integrating the string and jazz parts into just three songs, but soon found they wanted more, finding themselves improvising and seeing the songs mutate with these new elements.
“It was a new process and a step into the unknown,” McNamara said.
Trout Steak these days is a staple of the booming Denver live music scene. McNamara recalled a recent night in Denver when Trout Steak, the Infamous Stringdusters and Billy Strings were all headlining separate shows on one night. All three sold out.
“That is a lot of music fans,” said McNamara. “A lot of people dig all the stuff that’s going on right now, and they come out and support it.”
In their regular gigs at Belly Up, the band has woven itself into the fabric of Aspen’s scene, as well.
“I’m always seeing a lot of the same faces in the crowd when we come back and when I talk to people at the merch table they’re always like, ‘This is the local crowd, it’s the people who work on the ski hill and in the restaurants,’” he said. “So those are our people.”