1. Trampled by Turtles
At first, Trampled by Turtles strike you as Minnesota hillbillies impressively banging away on their acoustic instruments with a rowdy brand of thrash-grass. But then lead singer Dave Simonett quiets things down with a dusty Townes van Zandt-style ballad, and you realize there is much more depth to this Duluth-bred string band outfit. The group always delivers a wildly epic live show with plenty of world-weary bar anthems and early blue-collar genius reminiscent of Farrar and Tweedy back in the Uncle Tupelo days. Appearing at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
2. Carolina Chocolate Drops
The Durham, NC-based group has spent the last five years unearthing the largely unsung traditions of Black string band music, and along the way become one of the most dynamic live acts on the continuously exploding youth-charged old-time revival scene. Their style mixes a throwback of past generations—plucking banjos and sawing fiddles—with an underlying progressive edge. The band’s latest album, last year’s “Genuine Negro Jig,” which won a Grammy for Best Folk Album, strikes a proper balance between the generation gaps. In addition to fresh takes longstanding traditional tunes like “Cornbread and Butterbeans” and “Cindy Gal,” the effort also features front porch-style covers of Tom Waits’ “Trampled Rose” and R&B singer Blu Cantrell’s dance club anthem “Hit ‘Em Up Style.” Appearing at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival.
3. Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers
Yes, it’s true. Steve Martin can pick the living heck out of his banjo. Plus he’s backed by the Steep Canyon Rangers, a first-class crew of young string slingers from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The live show includes plenty of comedic interludes from Martin and blazing solos from the whole group. They’ll be pushing material from their new collaborative album, “Rare Bird Alert.” Appearing at Rockygrass.
4. Keller and the Keels
By now, you’ve probably seen Keller Williams do his one-man-band, acoustic guitar meets digital loop show. Lately, though, he’s been playing in a bluegrass trio with flat-picking master Larry Keel, along with Keel’s wife Jenny on bass. It’s a blast to hear this three-piece group run through a range of quirky covers. On their recently released album, “Thief,” they offer fast-paced takes of the Butthole Surfers, Ryan Adams, Amy Winehouse, The Raconteurs and Kris Kristofferson. Appearing at Bluegrass in Paradise in Crested Butte. Keller Williams will also be at the Collegiate Peaks Music Festival.
5. James Justin and Co.
Americana troubadour James Justin Burke writes about the sweet and simple things he observes from his home in a small South Carolina beach town. On his debut album, “Southern Son, So Far,” he delivers a mix of country flavor and coastal acoustic groove. The disc’s standout track, “The Rescue,” finds Burke sharing vocals with Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell and evoking metaphors of stormy love. Appearing at the Palisade Bluegrass and Roots Festival.
6. The Head and the Heart
Seattle continues to breed the best of the burgeoning indie folk scene. The latest is the Head and the Heart, a six-piece collective that sounds like the love child of Fleet Foxes and Dr. Dog. Tight, soul-tingling harmonies, delicate acoustic strumming, melodic piano rolls, and infectious stomp-clap beats all come together for the ultimate hipster hoedown. Appearing at the Boulder Theatre on May 6 and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.