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Mighty Poplar shines a light on 'real deal' bluegrass

Mighty Poplar at Sid the Cat in Los Angeles on May 18, 2023
Jay Blakesberg
/
Courtesy of the artist
Mighty Poplar at Sid the Cat in Los Angeles on May 18, 2023

Mighty Poplar features some of the best bluegrass players around, inspired by the Bluegrass Album Band, a supergroup of grass players from the 1980s. Greg Garrison, of Leftover Salmon, Chris Eldridge and Noam Pikelny, of Punch Brothers, Andrew Marlin, of Watchhouse, and Alex Hargreaves, of Billy Strings, got together to make a traditional, real-deal bluegrass record.

The band's self-titled debut album was a chance for five friends to play "real deal bluegrass," like Bill Monroe did over 75 years ago, and is a masterclass in form, with songs from Bob Dylan, The Carter Family and Leonard Cohen all spun in a new light.

Eldridge points out there's nothing quite like it:

"There's a kind of rhythmic heartbeat to the music that's very distinctive. It doesn't exist in any other music."

They join us to crowd around a microphone for a mini-concert, like they were sitting around a campfire, that spontaneity appealing to Pikelny:

"Just capturing something that happened in that moment in time. Like, this snapshot that happened, and we're going to choose this take, even if there's this little asterisk at one point."

From the stage of World Cafe Live, they also talk about why they wanted to adhere to old-school formula when it came to making the music they love, the joy of experimenting in studio and not being afraid to make a mistake.

Copyright 2023 XPN

Stephen Kallao
Miguel Perez
Miguel Perez is a radio producer for NPR's World Cafe, based out of WXPN in Philadelphia. Before that, he covered arts, music and culture for KERA in Dallas. He reported on everything from the rise of NFTs in the music industry to the enduring significance of gay and lesbian bars to the LGBTQ community in North Texas.