For many mandolinists when you ask “who is your greatest influence as a player?” most frequent answers would be Chris Thile, David Grisman, Bill Monroe…well, at the top of the list I might rattle off would be Joe Walsh. Through his work with the Gibson Brothers, his solo work, one of my favorite local bands: The Coloradas and more recently with Mr. Sun, Joe has cemented himself as one of the most talented players in modern bluegrass music. I previously described Walsh’s ‘Sweet Loam’ as “Truly memorable and remarkable.” and after revisiting that record this morning, I have to admit I still feel strongly that is it…go get it!
I caught up with Joe to talk about his involvement this year at Freshgrass and as a repeat artist, how he views the festival. BE sure to check him out with his superstars of bluegrass band, Mr. Sun (2:15 PM on Saturday) and also check in with him for the mandolin workshops throughout the weekend.
RLR: So, why are you excited for Freshgrass this year?
Joe Walsh: Freshgrass cracked the code on what makes a code festival, and they cracked it really quickly!! They’ve had exceptionally great, and varied, lineups, every year. The food’s great. The location is absolutely awesome. I’m a big fan of the festival, and am really glad to be coming back again.
RLR: A big part of what Red Line Roots stands for is collaboration, community and bringing folks together and fostering an environment where artists help each other. How do you feel about that preservation of unity and family sentiment as it applies to a festival like Freshgrass?
JW: I’ve played at Freshgrass three or four times, and every year there’s been some fun surprise that made the weekend even more special. One year I sat in with David Grisman, another we had Alison Brown play with us. There are so many great players there for the weekend, you never know who might show up on stage. it’s really fun both as a player and a listener to be have that element of surprise. I’ve also met some really interesting new people at Freshgrass, too, who’ve since become part of the great big family for me.
RLR: How does it play into your own music and where you come from?
JW: Well, I started playing the mandolin after getting really inspired by David Grisman, so it was a really huge “full circle” moment for me. If you could collaborate with anyone (dead or alive) musically, who would it be? Bill Frisell. I love people who make understatement fascinating, and he does that as well as anyone I know of. How about seeing anyone on stage together or joining you for your set this weekend? Well, we’ll see. We may bring up a couple of spare singers, and you never know who else might be around.
RLR: What is 1 record that shaped you when you first started playing and also, who is 1 ‘lesser known’/independent artist or an album that you are listening to now that you think folks really need to hear about?
JW: One record that shaped my playing at the start (by making me start playing!) is the original David Grisman Quintet album, featuring my band mate Darol Anger on fiddle. They paved the way for so many other exploratory string bands, and there’s so much to be learned from that record. One slightly lesser known artist that may be new to some of the Freshgrass crowd is Rayna Gellert. I’ve really been freaking out about her record Old Light, which is populated with really beautiful songs, singing and playing. It’s great!
RLR: Anything else you want to plug?
JW: Mr Sun’s got a new record on Compass records, entitled The People Need Light. I have to say, I’m really happy with how this one turned out, and am really proud of it.