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eTown Time Capsule: Peter Rowan / AJ Lee & Blue Summit

Bluegrass legend Peter Rowan joins Nick, Helen, and the Etones at eTown this week to play some classic tunes as well as more recent originals.

Also on stage are the young, and super-talented, AJ Lee & Blue Summit who represent the healthy and vibrant future of Bluegrass Music.

In addition, Nick spends some extra time chatting with Peter as he shares stories from his nearly sixty years in the business and on the road.

Peter Rowan

Grammy-award winner and member of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame Peter Rowan is a singer-songwriter with a career spanning over five decades.  From his early years playing under the tutelage of Bluegrass veteran Bill Monroe, to his time in Old & In the Way and his breakout as a solo musician and bandleader, Rowan has built a devoted, international fan base through a solid stream of recordings, collaborative projects, and constant touring.

Born in Wayland, Massachusetts to a musical family, Rowan learned to play guitar from his uncle. He spent his teenage years absorbing the sights and sounds of the Hillbilly Ranch, a legendary Country music nightclub in Boston frequented by old-time acts like The Lilly Brothers and Tex Logan. In 1956 Peter Rowan formed his first band, the Cupids, while still in high school.

After three years in college, Rowan left academia  to pursue a life in music. Rowan began his professional career in 1963 as the singer, rhythm guitarist and songwriter for the Bluegrass Boys, led by the founding father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe. “One thing I started to like about the Monroe style was that there was a lot more blues in it than other styles of bluegrass,” reflects Rowan.  “It was darker.  It had more of an edge to it.  And yet it still had the ballad tradition in it, and I loved that.”

The late ‘60s and early 70’s saw Rowan involved in a number of rock, folk and bluegrass projects, including Earth Opera, Sea Train, Muleskinner, and the Rowans, where he played alongside brothers Chris and Lorin Rowan.  After the Rowan Brothers disbanded, Rowan, David Grisman, Jerry Garcia, Vassar Clements and John Kahn formed a bluegrass band christened Old & In the Way.  It was during this incarnation that Rowan penned the song “Panama Red,” a subsequent hit for the New Riders of the Purple Sage and a classic ever since.

Rowan subsequently embarked on a well-received solo career in the late ‘70s, releasing critically acclaimed records such as Dustbowl Children (a Woody-Guthrie style song cycle about the Great Depression), Yonder (a record of old-time country music in collaboration with ace dobro player, Jerry Douglas) and two extraordinarily fine bluegrass albums, The First Whippoorwill and Bluegrass Boy, as well as High Lonesome Cowboy, a recording of traditional and old-time mountain music with Don Edwards and Norman Blake. Rowan’s recent releases- Quartet, a recording with the phenomenal Tony Rice and Legacy with the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band, coupled with a relentless touring schedule have further endeared Peter Rowan to audiences around the world.

Following on the heels of the celebrated album Crucial Country: Live at Telluride, Peter recorded his second album for Compass entitled Old School with memorable new songs such as “Doc Watson Morning”, “Drop The Bone” and “Keepin’ It Between The Lines (Old School)” with members of the current Bluegrass Band plus Chris Henry, Michael Cleveland, Bryan Sutton, Ronnie, Robbie and Del McCoury and more. Since then the prolific singer-songwriter has recorded and released Peter Rowan’s Twang an Groove Vol. 1 (his electric band with drummer Jamie Oldacker and bassist Mike Morgan) on There Records, Dharma Blues (produced by John Chelew and including Jack Casady, Jody Stecker, Patrick Korte and Manose Singh performing songs of the Buddhaverse) on Omnivore Records and My Aloha, also on Omnivore Records. Peter recorded and released two bluegrass records on Compass Records, both of which reverted back to him-Legacy and The Old School- before joining Rebel Records’ stellar bluegrass lineup. Peter’s second Rebel release, Calling You From My Mountain, received a 2022 Grammy nomination for Best Bluegrass Album.

Internationally, Rowan often performs as a solo singer-songwriter, while stateside, along with solo appearances, he plays in four bands: the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band, a quintet featuring  Keith Little, Chris Henry, Blaine Sprouse and Paul Knight; Big Twang Theory and its Texas Cousin Twang n Groove and rock bands The Free Mexican Air Force, and Peter Rowan Walls of Time.

AJ Lee & Blue Summit

AJ Lee & Blue Summit are an award-winning energetic, charming, and technically jaw-dropping band quickly rising on the national roots music scene. Based in Santa Cruz, California, the group met as teenagers, picking and jamming together as kids at local music festivals and jams until one day, they decided they would be a band. “Our roots go really deep,” explains de facto band leader Lee. “We met when we were young kids… We definitely decided to choose each other as a chosen family band later on in life, but in a lot of ways it was naturally just like that in the beginning.” “It was like one of those late at night things,” she continued. “We were sitting on a trailer at Grass Valley” at the annual Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival held in the Sierra Nevada foothills –  “Someone said, ‘All of us right here, we’re a band now.’ We kind of didn’t take it seriously, but we were like, okay, we’ll be a band!”

And thank goodness they became a band. Their first gigs were local, small venues, cafes, restaurants, coffee shops, where they’d play for multiple hours honing their set list and learning shared musical vocabularies. Now, as they criss-cross the country performing hundreds of shows a year to larger and larger audiences, you can sense the intention they had back then – to make music together not for just aspirational reasons, but because it’s fun – and it’s all you want to do as young musicians. Currently made up of Lee on mandolin, fiddler Jan Purat, and guitarists Scott Gates and Sullivan Tuttle, the band carries that youthful, festival-parking-lot energy with them still today, but at the same time there’s a genuine ease and confidence to their music making. This is not the bluegrass of ambitious musicians intent on industry success, this is music made firstly for the joy of making it and primarily made for each other. It’s part of why, as they ready their third studio album, City of Glass – their first label release, out July 19th via Signature Sounds – their product feels mature and fully realized, while deep in the Blue Summit pocket.

The group is proud to be Californian, proud to represent the neo-traditionalist bluegrass and folk from the state and the mighty communities surrounding them. Their music shines with this “think global, act local” sort of approach.