Music: Pickin’ Pretty

Jon Stickley Trio breaks bluegrass boundaries

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The Jon Stickley Trio’s newest album, says Jon Stickley, “is by far the most original, personal, and highly evolved of all our recordings.” Photo by John-Ryan Lockman, courtesy of WinterWonderGrassFestival.

As the memories of three days full of easy, breezy, bluegrassy music from the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco begin to fade, there comes a band to Mill Valley that could be aptly described as—hardly, strictly, bluegrass. “Electro-harmonic jazzgrass” is one of the names that Jon Stickley chooses to describe his all-acoustic, all-instrumental trio. “One of the cool things about the band is that it’s so different,” Stickley says by phone while on tour.

Based in Asheville, North Carolina, the trio’s roots are in bluegrass, but classical, hip hop, gypsy jazz and indie rock are added to the sound. Performances are highly improvisational, with Stickley delivering lightning-fast, fingerpicking licks on the guitar, Lyndsay Pruett bowing and plucking the violin and Patrick Armitage providing driving beats on the drums.

Stickley grew up singing and playing music at the local church and then switched to rock ’n’ roll guitar. But when a banjo-playing friend loaned him a record by the David Grisman Quartet, asking him to learn a few bluegrass licks on the mandolin to back him up, Stickley says, “That was the first time that I had ever heard anything like that, and it just changed my life. We went to our first bluegrass jam where I saw the way that people interacted and the community, and just the general good energy around what a bluegrass jam is.”

Stickley met Pruett and Armitage five years ago and discovered that their musical styles all meshed. The band is currently on tour promoting their newest release, Maybe Believe, including a stop at the Throckmorton Theatre on Thursday, October 12. The trio attracts both young and old audiences, at large festivals and in small listening rooms. “We are just having a lot of fun putting on high-energy performances,” Stickley says.

Jon Stickley Trio, Thursday, Oct. 12, Throckmorton Theatre, 142 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley; $16-$20; throckmortontheatre.org.

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