Blue Ox Music Festival Preview: Armchair Boogie Discuss Hitting The Big Stage In Their Home State, What’s On The Horizon, & More

In 2014, Augie Dougherty and Ben Majeska combined forces in Wisconsin to form bluegrass/folk duo Armchair Boogie, later becoming a foursome with the additions of Eli Frieders and Denzel Connor, and their passion for the craft has brought them to festivals and shows all around the country since.

The combination of Dougherty’s banjo picking, Majeska’s rhythmic guitar strumming, and the pocketed rhythm section of Frieders and Connor root Armchair Boogie’s sound in bluegrass. However, they are never afraid of dipping their toes into different territories like funk or country, defining their genre as more “newgrass.” Their most recent album, What Does Time Care?, features this style within the contrast between the authentic bluegrass track “American Spirit” and the funkier “That Lovin’.” Neither diminish the skills of each band member on their respective instruments, but rather shows the versatility of the band as players.

Armchair Boogie is excited for their upcoming live performance at the Blue Ox Music Festival, a bluegrass and Americana festival that began in 2015 and has only become more popular since. Not only does it feature energetic performances from great string band artists, but also extras like a wellness tent, an instrument workshop, and campground jam sessions hosted by the Potluck String Band. This year it runs from August 19-21, and Armchair Boogie can be seen performing the night of the 21st, opening for the main headliner. 

We had the pleasure of speaking more with Armchair Boogie about their upcoming performance at the Blue Ox Music Festival, new music, experiences with 2020, and more!

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So what has Armchair Boogie been up to lately? Any new music in the works?

We’ve been mighty busy this summer! Lots of festivals and traveling, we’re so happy to be back at it. Most notably, we threw our own festival for the first time called The Boogiedown back in June, which took place in Yuba, Wisconsin, at a beautiful festival grounds called Driftless Music Gardens. It went off without a hitch so we’re working on putting it together again for next year! 

As far as music goes, we recorded a Western-themed EP over the pandemic that we are carrying physical copies of and it will soon be online. It was certainly nice to give ourselves something to work on, and to have it be a handful of songs focusing on an overall theme. We’re always writing, and soon enough I have a feeling we’ll have a big enough batch of tunes to hit the studio again in 2022. 

I see you’ll be playing the Blue Ox Music Festival here this weekend. Is this your first time playing it, and what does it mean to you to be playing such a big time bluegrass festival?

We first played Blue Ox in 2019 on their late night stage, it was quite the party! That was definitely a milestone for the band because Augie (banjo player) and I have attended every single Blue Ox since it started in 2015. I’ve made more epic memories at that festival than I can count. Blue Ox is special to us, so we’re stoked to be playing directly before the Saturday night headliners this year. Oh and we also just feel so lucky to have a festival of this stature in Wisconsin!

With so many amazing artists on the docket, what part of the weekend are you most looking forward to? (other than your own set…)

I’m super looking forward to all the jams in the campground! That’s about half of the festival for me. There’s so many picking circles going on throughout the campground and backstage, so you can stumble on some real talent just about anywhere. And it can happen at any time, even when the sun is coming up haha. The late night sets are always really fun too, just because you’re in the backwoods after hours and everyone is in full on party mode! It’s a joyful way to end the evening (if you’re not staying up picking all night after). 

What artists might you be most excited to hear and/or potentially get to meet and hang with?

Oh man, that’s hard to say. For me, I was recently introduced to Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit and now I jam to them often. Stoked to see them live. As a flatpicker, I’m also mighty excited to see Molly Tuttle because she’s one of the best pickers in the game right now. Charley Crockett makes some real pleasant country music, I got a good feeling he’ll bring the heat. 

I’ve met a lot of legends backstage at Blue Ox so who knows what will happen! Always kind of fun to run into someone who’s inspired you for years in a casual setting backstage. I met Bela Fleck, Victor Wooten, Greensky, Stringdusters, Del McCoury, etc, and all of them are just as friendly as you’d expect. 

On a scale from 1-10, where does Blue Ox fit in terms of shows/tours/festivals you’ve played in the past, and what would make for an ideal overall experience for you?

10 haha. No exaggeration there, I just have so much sentimental value for this festival, the artists they bring in, the attendees, the organizers, it really is a perfect scenario. Being in Wisconsin, it brings out a TON of friends and family as well. Hard to get everyone in one place like that unless you have a kickass festival in your home state. 

As a band, what’s the most rewarding part of experiencing large performances like this together? 

Big crowds are fun! There’s so much energy that you can feel the intensity when getting on stage, in a good way. Even though it can be nerve-wracking, we usually embrace the energy and that leads to really owning the performance. As a band that works very hard putting time and effort in, it also reaffirms why we do what we do. For these incredibly fun moments on stage that we get to share with a good-timin’ crowd. We love bringing people together and sharing the whole experience, and the memories always stick with us.

Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of uncertainty and divisiveness in the air right now. What are you doing to keep your heads up amidst this exhaustive and difficult time, and did you find the past 17 months helped or hindered your creative process and artistic drive?

2020 was a tough one for not being able to play out and see people. Nonetheless, I think we all found whatever silver linings we could and embraced the downtime since we usually don’t have much of it. More downtime meant more time to write and practice, hang out in the great outdoors more, get some decent sleep, and thankfully all of us still had other work to keep us afloat financially. So it worked out given the crappy circumstances, we’re all optimistic fellas so we embraced what we could with the downtime. 

On a lighter note, what are a couple of festival/show highlight-reel moments for the band over the years?

I’d say just about any time we tour out west, it ends up being very memorable. We’re all best buds so hitting the road for weeks on end always turns into an adventure. We love playing up in the mountains and traveling to different cities. Colorado always treats us especially well. Northwest String Summit is an incredible festival we had the privilege of playing in 2019, way out in Oregon, which is a fun state to play in overall.

We once played to a crowd of 4,000+ in our hometown of Madison, WI, in 2019 for the Live on King Street series, and that remains one of our favorite shows of all time. And there’s so many shows that aren’t as huge but are just as special. Too many to count but we feel lucky to continue making more highlight-reel moments, with another one coming up this weekend. 😉

What might fans expect from Armchair Boogie as we barrel towards Fall, and frankly, the end of the year? Tours, an album, a cookbook?

Lots of things are coming up! Next month we’ll be making our first appearance at the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) conference in Raleigh, NC, as an official showcasing artist. It’s an honor to be selected and we can’t wait to see what all the hype is about. Also, we have a big hometown Halloween show lined up at the Majestic Theater here in Madison, WI, called Boograss Ball on Friday, October 29th. Tickets are flying for that and we haven’t even picked out our Halloween costumes yet! I’m sure some more really cool things will pop up for NYE, just have to keep an eye out for us!

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