Across The Great Divide

Bluegrass is a music of bridge-building, spanning multiple generations and styles. It’s one of the only music forms in the world that assimilates hard-edged old conservatives and youthful progressives, making it one of the last places where extremely disparate Americans can gather to jam and enjoy. That diversity has been cultivated by a handful of musicians who’ve had credibility on both sides of the cultural divide, like John Hartford, Vassar Clements and our guest next week, the great Peter Rowan.

Here’s the question I really want to ask Peter Rowan: How’d you do it? How did you wind up playing as a band member with the famously rigid Bill Monroe AND with hippie icons Jerry Garcia and David Grisman? I can speculate that the answer will be that across all fronts of bluegrass, what really matters is whether you can play and sing and contribute. And Rowan can do all that and more.

He grew up amid the vibrant Boston bluegrass scene of the 1950s and 60s, around lesser known heroes of the music like Joe Val and the Lilly Brothers. Then his professional career began at the highest possible level, as a Bluegrass Boy for the music’s founding father Bill Monroe. During his two and a half years, he didn’t get to record as much with Monroe as we fans would wish, but he did collaborate with the master in writing “Walls of Time,” one of my top ten bluegrass songs ever.

After those important years, Rowan embarked on one of the most multi-faceted journeys in American music, leading or joining multiple bands with as many personalities: Old and In The Way, Earth Opera, Muleskinner and the Rowan Brothers Band. He’s brought reggae influence to bluegrass and shown a strong affinity for Woody Guthrie’s empathic folk on his masterpiece album Dustbowl Children. He’s led Crucial Country and his rock band the Free Mexican Air Force.

So does he need a new band? Yes, he does. The Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band gets back to basics with the help of wonderful mandolinist Jody Stecher and multi-talented Keith Little on banjo, with Paul Knight on bass. They’ve just signed to Compass Records, a bridge-building enterprise themselves. So we really couldn’t ask for more.

Except there’s more. And in exactly the kind of generational/continental influence I’m talking about, we have Bearfoot, a band formed initially in Alaska but fast becoming one of the most adored bands on the circuit. Young, fresh and lifted by three amazing female voices, Bearfoot has one bare foot in tradition and the other in exactly the kind of searching, fearless sound that Rowan has helped foster for decades.

On other sonic fronts, we’ll be joined by the great songwriter David Olney with his musical compatriots Sergio Webb and Jack Irwin. I’ve only heard Olney’s steel-toed songs and commanding voice as a solo act, so I’ll be very curious what his ensemble is like. And speaking of curiosity, I can’t wait to hear Red Molly and Harpeth Rising. We have much more information about them elsewhere on the MCR site.

We’ve had some beautiful evenings out at the barn since the weather warmed up. Come see what all the fuss is about.

Craig H

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