Trout Steak Revival is Colorado's next great bluegrass band
There is no trout at Trout Steak Revival's band practice, but there are five musicians and a manager full of bratwurst and salad in a back yard in east Denver.
Emerald O'Brien Trout Steak Revival plays the free stage at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival during the band competition semi-finals. They competed against nine other bands from around the country to win the title of Best Band.
"You can only eat so much trout," banjo player Travis McNamara jokes.
Fiddle player Bevin Foley hosts her bandmates on Thursdays for food and practice when they each make the trek into Denver from their Front Range homes. On this particular Thursday, they sit around the table in her small back yard. A faded wooden sign proclaiming "Trout Steak Revival" leans against the fence in the corner. Except for gigs and the occasional Sunday practice, Thursday band practice is one of the only chances they have to all get together while juggling their own day jobs and living in different towns.
It has been a long journey for Trout Steak, with member changes, years of practicing and two full albums, but recent events suggest the band's work is paying off. In 2012, the band took third place at the RockyGrass Festival band contest. In June of this year, Trout Steak won the prestigious Best Band award at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, securing a full set (and free tickets) at next year's festival. Trout Steak also just booked its first headlining gig at the Fox Theatre in Boulder.
Emerald O'Brien Trout Steak Revival plays the RapidGrass Music Festival in Idaho Springs on June 27.
In the semi-finals at Telluride, on the small free stage outside the boundaries of the festival, the band covered an old Harlan Howard song, "It Takes One to Know One." Their cover showed a group of musicians with serious bluegrass chops.
The surprising thing about Trout Steak is that its members aren't the born-and-raised bluegrass players that their songs and sounds suggest. And though they have a few covers under their belt, most of the songs they play are originals, unlike a lot of bluegrass bands who win over crowds on old favorites.
"We don't hang our hat on most of the traditional songs," mandolinist Steve Foltz says. "It's not our strong suit."
"It's not how we started, either," bassist Casey Houlihan says. "When we started playing songs as a band, it really wasn't bluegrass at all. I played a banjo and [Travis] played a mandolin, but we weren't playing Old Home Place; we were playing CCR and Neil Young and Bob Dylan."
The actual band formed formed after the boys, who had all met in their home state of Michigan, each moved out to Colorado. As they played music at small bars or for their friends, they found the bluegrass style that is prevalent in Colorado.
"It's fun to get immersed in it, because it's really happening here in Colorado," McNamara says. "It's fun to be a part of this community with all of these other bands."
They never stuck to just playing old fiddle tunes and bluegrass classics; they play mostly originals, though you might not know it just from listening. They capture a lot of the essence of folksy, bluegrass lyrics -- about trains, about catching fish, about climbing (and dying) on a mountain -- though they insist that they've never sat down with the intention to write a "bluegrass song."