Hillberry 2018 Lineup Part 1: Trampled By Turtles, Sam Bush, Billy Strings & More

 Hillberry The Harvest Moon Festival 2018 has released its first lineup announcement for the October 11-14 event. 

Hillberry 5 will include 2 nights (4 sets) from Hillberry co-host Railroad Earth; plus performances from Trampled By Turtles, which just announced it is ending a 2-year hiatus; the “Father of Newgrass” Sam Bush; critically acclaimed Americana trio The Wood Brothers; speed-grass Billboard chart-topper Billy Strings; “thrash-grass” pioneers Split Lip Rayfield; Arkansas’ leading prog-grass band Arkansauce; “groove-grass” standouts The Mighty Pines; and Chicago-based up-and-comers Miles Over Mountains.

Hillberry Festival is hosted by Deadhead Productions, which has hosted various music festivals at numerous venues over the years and now is headquartered at The Farm near Eureka Springs.

Tickets are on sale now at Eventbrite at early bird prices while they last. Ticket sales will be limited to 3,000 attendees, and the festival is expected to sell out.

The Farm is located in the beautiful Ozark Mountains just a few miles from historic Eureka Springs, amid rolling mountaintops on a largely wooded, privately owned, 160-acre property; it is 26 miles from Rogers/Bentonville and 50 miles from Fayetteville. The venue boasts beautiful 360-degree panoramic views from its perch atop 160 acres that back up to Mark Twain National Forest. Beaver Lake, Table Rock Lake, and the White River are all within 5 miles of The Farm, offering popular spots for floating, hiking, swimming, and picnicking.

But without ever leaving the property, Hillberry attendees can enjoy mountain biking and hiking, plus permanent and temporary art installations, artists, workshops, yoga, arts and crafts, and all sorts of children’s activities scheduled every day from morning till night. Shuttles are often available for transportation to nearby lakes as well as to downtown Eureka Springs.

The Farm also has an on-site general store selling snacks and light groceries, beverages, ice, and various sundries; the property also boasts a brand-new, 3-mile mountain bike trail for cycling and hiking and an 18-hole disc golf course available for use at no extra charge. Additionally, canoeing/kayaking opportunities abound with the White River and Kings River each just a few miles away with multiple river outfitters in the area. Table Rock Lake is less than 5 miles away, and boat rentals are available at the nearby Holiday Island Marina.

ABOUT THE HILLBERRY 2018 LINEUP:

RAILROAD EARTH

There’s a great scene in “The Last Waltz” – the documentary about The Band’s final concert – where director Martin Scorsese is discussing music with drummer/singer/mandolin player Levon Helm. Helm says, “If it mixes with rhythm, and if it dances, then you’ve got a great combination of all those different kinds of music: country, bluegrass, blues music, show music…” To which Scorsese, the inquisitive interviewer, asks, “What’s it called, then?” 

“Rock & roll!” Helm answers.

Well, that’s the way it is sometimes: musicians play music, and don’t necessarily worry about where it gets filed. It’s the writers, record labels, managers, etc, who tend to fret about what “kind” of music it is.

And like The Band, the members of Railroad Earth aren’t losing sleep about what “kind” of music they play – they just play it. When they started out in 2001, they were a bunch of guys simply interested in playing acoustic instruments together. But as they played publicly more and more, the welcome they received from an explosive fan base pushed them onward and upward far faster than RRE’s members ever anticipated.

Railroad Earth — which was a regular at the now-defunct Wakarusa and Yonder Mountain String Band Harvest festivals — can jam with the best of them, but they’re not a jam band. They’re bluegrass influenced, but they use drums and amplifiers (somewhat taboo in the bluegrass world). 

What kind of music is it then? Mandolin/vocalist John Skehan offers this semi-descriptive term: “I always describe it as a string band, but an amplified string band with drums.” Violinist and vocalist Tim Carbone takes a swing: “We’re a Country & Eastern band! ” Frontman Todd Sheaffer offers: “A souped-up string band? I don’t know. I’m not good at this.” Or, as a great drummer/singer/mandolin player with an appreciation for Americana once said: “Rock & roll!”

Skehan told me years ago that Railroad Earth actually got its start as a festival band, being at the right place and playing the right kind of music at the right time, earning berths at Telluride Bluegrass Festival and High Sierra Music Festival within a few months of forming as a group.

“There’s something about our band’s music that works well in an outdoor setting when the weather is right — something about any acoustic-oriented music — it just sounds right outdoors,” he said.

This is RRE’s third year to co-host Hillberry. The band performs two full sets twice during the festival.

Watch a full set from RRE at last October’s Hillberry below:

TRAMPLED BY TURTLES

Over 14 years, Duluth, Minnesota, natives Trampled By Turtles recorded 8 albums, 3 of which hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Bluegrass chart. The quintet has headlined at such major festivals as Bonnaroo, Coachella, and Lollapalooza, and they’ve sold out Colorado’s legendary Red Rocks Amphitheater 3 years in a row. Two appearances on the “Late Show with David Letterman” and one on “Conan” further bolstered the band’s devoted fan base.

But 2 years ago, founding member and lead vocalist/guitarist Dave Simonett asked his bandmates for a favor: time off to work on his solo project, Dead Man Winter.

The band didn’t officially announce a hiatus, but several months later, with rumors swirling, TBT tweeted, “Going away for a little while. We love you all. Thanks for an amazing first chapter.”

Early this morning, February 13, TBT announced a return to touring this year and a new album, Life is Good on the Open Road, due out May 4, with dozens of tour dates May through early July.

The last time TBT performed in Arkansas was 2009, at YMSB Harvest Festival. My review of that performance, published by the Arkansas Times, said:

The band does not even come near the Natural State very often – though they have performed in Arkansas a few times, including helping inaugurate the new location of Juanita’s when it moved to the River Market a few years ago. (They sold out Juanita’s not long after it had re-opened, and then put on a helluva performance before a sweaty, overcrowded and understaffed room full of blown-away fans. It. Was. Astounding.)

TBT was in the mood to seriously light the Main Stage on fire at Harvest Festival. From the outset, nearly every song was played at lightning speed, and even a few of their “calmer” hit tracks that typically are not played so fast (“Victory”) seemed to fly more than usual. The crowd, me included, ate it up as the fiddle and banjo, in particular, soared at such speeds. (The acoustic guitarist showed off some pretty fancy fingerwork as well, even at blazing paces.)

Watch TBT’s full set from the 40th Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival below:

SAM BUSH

Sam Bush – aka the “Father of Newgrass” and the “King of Telluride Bluegrass Festival” – began playing mandolin at age 11 and as a teen won 1st place 3 times in the junior division of the National Oldtime Fiddler’s Contest in Weiser, Idaho. In the fall of 1971, Bush and some bandmates reformed their previous group as New Grass Revival, which is considered the standard-bearer for progressive bluegrass or “newgrass” even now. 

Bush’s bandmates in New Grass Revival included banjo genius Bela Fleck; the group toured with Leon Russell, opening the shows and backing Russell during his headlining set.

When the New Grass Revival dissolved in 1989, Bush joined Emmylou Harris’ Nash Ramblers, touring and recording with Harris for the next five years. In 1997, Bush and New Grass Revival reunited for an appearance on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” as the backup band for Garth Brooks.

Bush was awarded the Lifetime Achievement for Instrumentalist award by the Americana Music Association, and the International Bluegrass Music Association has named him Mandolin Player of the Year four times. He’s won 3 Grammys and was nominated for a fourth; and since 2010, he is officially recognized by the Kentucky State Legislature as the Father of Newgrass.

Bush was the subject of the 2015 documentary “Revival: The Sam Bush Story,” which features commentary from Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Bela Fleck, David Grisman, Ricky Skaggs, and The Avett Brothers, among others. Directed by Wayne Franklin and Kris Wheeler, the film was shown at various independent film festivals throughout 2015.

Here’s Bush and his band performing a Doc Watson cover during RockyGrass festival in Colorado a couple years back:

THE WOOD BROTHERS

One of the top headliners for last fall’s Fayetteville Roots Festival, The Wood Brothers are no strangers to Northwest Arkansas. They also have performed at Wakarusa near Ozark/Cass in past years.

The Wood Brothers have steadily climbed the ranks of not just major festival acts but also critical and even mainstream industry acclaim – not an easy feat for an Americana act whose genre-bending music is rarely, if ever, included on genre-cookie-cutter commercial radio playlists. Their 5th studio album, Paradise (2015), was their third to rank on U.S. Billboard charts and the first to hit the No. 1 spot (on the Billboard Heatseeker chart). 

The Wood Brothers’ newest album, One Drop of Truth, was just released. Read my blog about The Wood Brothers’ hit “Sing About It” and my conversation with Oliver Wood here.

BILLY STRINGS

Rolling Stone calls Billy Strings a “bluegrass prodigy” in a new article about the up-and-coming Michigan native now based in Nashville.

“Billy Strings doesn’t have any trouble living up to his name. One of the latest breakneck guitar pickers to emerge in the bluegrass world,” RollingStone.com says Strings is one of 10 new country acts everyone should know.

Released last September, Strings’ debut LP Turmoil & Tinfoil reached No. 3 on the Billboard bluegrass chart, positioning Strings for a big 2018. Currently in the midst of a winter tour, he’ll be getting his two-month spring tour underway on March 23 at the Suwannee Spring Reunion in Live Oak, Florida, with other festival appearances along the way at Bender Jamboree in Las Vegas and Old Settlers Fest in Texas. 

Strings, who played in a metal band as a teenager, still channels that high-voltage approach in his present-day live acoustic performances. “We jumped all over the stage and kicked each other and spit on people in the audience,” he told Rolling Stone Country last summer. “I don’t do that at my shows now, but I almost can’t help but move around like that. There’s so much energy there. When you go to a metal show and everyone’s jumping around and jumping off stage – man, there’s something really special going on there.”

Watch Billy Strings performing “Turmoil and Tinfoil” on the Music City Roots stage last summer:

SPLIT LIP RAYFIELD

Kansas-based “thrash-grass” or cowpunk stalwarts Split Lip Rayfield helped pioneer what came to be known as the “Stage 5” sound, named for the notorious “unofficial” Stage 5 at the annual Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas. Bands like Split Lip faithfully use traditional acoustic bluegrass instruments but play songs more closely related stylistically to rock, punk, or heavy metal.

It’s been more than 20 years years since SLR first mashed up their aggressive stew of acoustic bluegrass instrumentation, tight country vocals, fierce metal shred, and in-your-face punk sensibilities. SLR’s music is bluegrass worthy of being blasted out of the windows of a Plymouth Barracuda with a 426 Hemi V8 engine: metal- and jazz-like freakouts done acoustically.

SLR’s live shows are the stuff of legend. They whip crowds into a sweaty frenzy – Split Lip’s playing has long been fast, manic, insanely complex, and utterly unique. 

The band happily and improbably took the spirit and musical inventiveness of the Stanley Brothers, John Zorn, hell, even Rush. They almost single-handedly invented “thrash-grass,” and countless bands owe them a huge debt for not only defining a sound, but stretching the possibilities of the acoustic music world. 

Since the tragic loss of founding guitarist and vocalist, Kirt Rundstrom, who succumbed to cancer in 2007, the remaining members have continued, though more deliberately perhaps – carrying on the sound and the fury of the band, though. The group last year released its first record since the 2008 farewell album released just after the loss of their bandmate; the new studio recording is dubbed “On My Way.”

As Eric always likes to say: “People should get ready to have their heads ripped off.”

Below is SLR performing a track off the new record last year:

ARKANSAUCE

Last year was, in many ways, a turning point for Fayetteville-based progressive bluegrass quartet Arkansauce. From an outside perspective, Arkansauce enjoyed a big year: the April release of its third album, If I Were You, which enjoyed great reviews from publications like GratefulWeb and others that are jamgrass-heavy; the band continued expanding its fan base with new tour stops in New Mexico, Colorado, Missouri, Mississippi, and Kansas; they played twice on the Main Stage at Fayetteville’s Bikes, Blues & BBQ (and once in between, at Bikes, Bluegrass & BBQ at The Farm, home of Hillberry); they played a sold-out show at George’s Majestic Lounge for Fayetteville Roots Fest; and they were one of 11 bands selected from across the country to compete in June’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival band competition. 

From the band’s perspective, 2017 was a year of buckling down, they told Arkansounds.com in an interview last week.
“Doing the Telluride competition elevated our drive and desire to play better and focus more on the details,” explains Collins. “Preparing for that competition, and a new commitment to paying attention to all the details in all the songs we do, spurred us to get on a new level of how serious we are taking all the details – merely playing these songs versus making them as good as we can possibly make them – searching for ways to make them better, and nailing the execution every single time.”

Here’s a video of their set from last fall’s Hillberry Festival:

THE MIGHTY PINES

The Mighty Pines is a fierce prog-grass band making music inspired by the wide rivers and red-brick streets of St. Louis. For the last 5 years they’ve been fashioning their distinctive heartland sound: bluegrass meets acoustic soul and rock & roll.  Their music can at one moment be raucous and at the next hushed, with soaring harmonies keeping it sweet through every song.

The Pines formed in 2012 and since have released 3 records, played hundreds of live shows, and shared bills with such renowned acts as Railroad Earth, Greensky Bluegrass, Sam Bush, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Fruition, and many more in venues across the country. 

Below is The Mighty Pines’ full set while opening for Railroad Earth in St. Louis last fall:

MILES OVER MOUNTAINS

Miles Over Mountains, a progressive bluegrass band based in McHenry, Illinois, will be returning to Eureka Springs for Hillberry; the group performed at this January’s Ozark Mountain Music Festival in Eureka as well. 

Their live shows are high energy, featuring an arsenal of original material and a refreshing variety of cover songs served up in their own unique style.
LiveForLiveMusic says MoM’s four members “provide the listener with a paradoxical calming, yet exciting experience. The band somehow has the power to ease one’s worries while also forcing the crowd into a frenzy of dance.” 

Now entering their 5th year as a band, Miles Over Mountains continues to turn heads across the nation as their momentum, fan base and touring schedule continue to grow. Since their inception in early 2014, they’ve performed hundreds of shows at bars, clubs and music festivals with no signs of slowing down. 

Here’s a video of MoM performing at Down on the Farm Music Festival last year: