International Banjo Champion Kyle Tuttle has picked his way into the hearts and souls of bluegrass lovers far and wide, and next weekend he will be taking his talents to the Blue Ox Music Festival.
With his precise and masterful knowledge of one of the most difficult string instruments to learn, Tuttle is a torchbearer of true-blue bluegrass that hearkens to an Earl Scruggs-era, coupled with a jamband essence and a sprinkle of psychedelia. Shredding his way through the jamgrass scene, Tuttle has made a name for himself as he’s shared the stage with many top performers, most notably as a member of the Jeff Austin Band for three years. He has also worked with jamgrass legends Larry Keel, Travelin’ McCourys, Leftover Salmon, Greensky Bluegrass, Billy Strings, and Railroad Earth to name a few.
In addition to being a staple in his respective circuit, he is a studio musician in Nashville, and recently produced the Chain Station album, Backroads. He’s also a banjo teacher, and offers lessons online and in person.
Earlier this year, Tuttle released his album, Live in 2020, an electric 7-track record showcasing his signature high-energy playing and penchant for semi-psych sonic exploration. It’s exactly the kind of revering, down-home bluegrass music you’d want to dance into the wee hours to under a circus tent (I’m envisioning the Dance Tent at Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival) with both people you love and complete strangers.
“Eight More Miles to Louisville” kicks the record off with the ever-familiar life on the road lyrics along with a delightful “Scarlet Begonias” nod etched in. It’s a brief but exciting six more tracks, especially “Fireball Mail,” which hits exactly as such. First class, standard, expedited- it’s all comin’ in hot with this two-minute blazer. Rounding out the record is the almost funked-out and psychedelic track, “Birdie Strut”.
Tuttle will take his red-hot pickin’ to the Main Stage from 5:30-6:30 on Thursday night at Blue Ox, and his footprints will be some of the first on said stage for the weekend. Sam Bush will wrap things up on the Main Stage with a big fat bow on Saturday night.
Tuttle was kind enough to talk more about his Live in 2020 album, playing Blue Ox, what’s next for him, and more.
So I see you released your latest album, Live in 2020, this past winter. Where was it recorded, and what made you choose those seven songs for the record?
Live in 2020 was recorded in February 2020 when KTB was on tour with Railroad Earth. That version of the band had just formed and this was our first run together, so the music was still fresh and everyone was on their toes. I sifted through the tapes of all the shows from that tour, and chose what I thought were the most exciting, and energy-filled tracks.
What made you want to put out a live record as opposed to another studio album?
The music was not actually recorded with intent to be released. A few months of sitting on the couch wondering if we would ever play live again went by before I even remembered that these recorded shows existed. So then it became a great project for me to focus my energy on during quarantine, and I landed on 7 tracks that seemed almost like hearing the band play a set, and the live show energy is what I really wanted people to hear.
What have you been up to since then?
Just gearing up to be able to play safely, and as much as possible. I have teamed with The Lil’ Smokies for the rest of the year, and also released another full-length album with my trio called ‘Tuttle, Pool & Greuel’ – with Adam Greuel & Jared Pool, two very dear buddies. The album is called Cosmic Nudge and I am very proud of the work we did together on that project. It’s available everywhere, and on vinyl too!!!
So you’ll be playing the Blue Ox Music Festival in less than two weeks. How does it feel to be playing a festival of this magnitude again, and will it be your first time playing this particular one?
This will not be my first Blue Ox. I have been there twice with the Jeff Austin Band. Playing that fest with Jeff was one hell of an experience, twice haha. I am VERY excited to return with my own project AND with The Lil’ Smokies. Very excited to see some smiling and dancing bodies!
Do you deal with anxiety before playing festivals and shows like these, especially after being shelved for so long, or is it always business as usual? And do you have any pre-show rituals or things you do to prepare?
I suffer from anxieties just like anyone else, you know. There’s never a shortage of things to stress out about before a gig if that’s how you like to roll. Fortunately I’ve done this many, many times for many, many years now and I think my body and mind just sort of live in a state of preparedness for performing. I don’t have a lucky rabbits foot or a montra that I use or anything like that. Just being calm and relaxed, and ready to open your heart up for people, that’s what works for me. Onstage and off, I guess.
Who all makes up the Kyle Tuttle Band?
These days I usually have Julian Pinelli on fiddle, and the bass chair is revolving. At Blue Ox it will be a bit different though, I’ll have Jake Simpson from Smokies on fiddle, and Travis Book from Dusters on bass!
What artists might you be most excited to hear and/or potentially get to hang with at Blue Ox?
I’m always pumped too see Sam Bush Band and Leftover Salmon!! Really cool that Jason Isbell is there this year. I’ve been a major fanboy since his days in the Drive-By Truckers. And of course the mind-bending Jon Stickley Trio, never a dull moment with that crew! And of course my Sister/Cousin/Friend-or-Relative Molly Tuttle. Are we related, I don’t know, you figure it out.
You’ve shared stages with a number of incredible bluegrass artists over the years. Was there one or two along the way that really affected or influenced you the most?
Oh that’s such a difficult question. As a wise man once said, “All the years combine, and melt into a dream”. It’s been one big wild trip and just keeps getting wilder. I’ve been so lucky to share stages and notes and sweat and tears with some real living legends, and I am beyond grateful. It would take a book to really get into that….. hey maybe I’ll write a book!
Lastly, what might you have planned post-Blue Ox and into the fall?
I’ll be real busy with Lil’ Smokies this fall for “festival season 2021” haha, as well as headlining the EXIT/IN in Nashville with Kyle Tuttle Band for the first time on 9/9, and hopefully still find time to do some good Tennessee bass fishin’ and camping out with my darlin!
Photo by Jay Strausser Visuals