It’s hard to trace the origins of the folk music revival of the past decade. It’s unclear where it started, but the popularity of bands like Mumford & Sons, Fleet Foxes, the Avett Brothers and Old Crow Medicine Show prove that at some point, the rockers started to unplug their guitars and began to learn banjo. Is rock just in a holding period, waiting for the next big thing? Or are musicians for some reason simply feeling compelled to keep it simple, and return to the roots of popular music?
The Portland bluegrass/folk rock ensemble Tricky Britches may be a Maine-based part of that revival, but they’re also five guys with a long history in music, and a shared passion for playing live – be it in an intimate folk venue, or on a raucous street corner. The band consists of fiddler Tyler Lienhardt, Seth Doyle on mandolin, Nick Wallace on guitar, Jed Bresette on bass, and banjo player Bear Wilkinson, who joined the band in the spring of 2011. They’ll perform on Friday, July 15 at Mainely Brews in Waterville, on Sunday, June 24 at Sebago Brewing in Gorham, and on Saturday, July 7 at the Arootsakoostik Music Festival in New Sweden.
Lienhardt, Doyle and Wallace all grew up in Gorham, learning their instruments together and growing to embrace folk music, while Bresette and Wilkinson grew up playing rock. While none grew up in particularly bluegrass-centric families, they nonetheless found themselves drawn to its charms.
“Bluegrass and folk music hadn’t really played a big role in our childhoods,” said Bresette “We each have different histories and relationships with our respective instruments. Seth and Tyler learned their instruments by playing traditional tunes including Irish and Appalachian material. Bear and I are self-taught guitarists of rock descent and have both gravitated towards folk music, like many twenty-somethings have, in the past decade.”
By 2009, Lienhardt, Doyle and Wallace were playing together all the time. Their back porch jam sessions and sidewalk concerts were so much fun and grew such a crowd that they decided to record an off-the-cuff album of some of the music they made (the out-of-print “Hop on the Train”), and call themselves the Tricky Britches. One afternoon, Bresette – Doyle’s roommate at the time – joined in on the jam. Two days later, the four set out on a cross-country busking tour.
“Busking is a band’s ultimate test of endurance, both physical and mental. People are funny. We have too many stories to tell, probably enough to fill a book,” said Bresette. “All challenges set aside, the street corner is the best place to engage an audience, grow a fan base and make some serious cash. And, of course, such a casual setting is kind of liberating for a musician – an opportunity to test out new licks or harmony lines.”
In the spring and summer 2010, spurred by the success of their American busking tour and later success playing around Portland, three-quarters of the band – Bresette, Lienhardt and Doyle – purchased round-trip plane tickets and went to Europe. They started in Ireland in May, and by August were in Poland, and ready to head back to Maine. They made their way across the continent via bus, train and boat, with nothing but backpacks and instruments.
“One-by-one we sold about 800 copies of ‘Hop on a Train.’ We managed to make the right friends in Ireland, scoring us a couple last-minute gigs there. Aside from that it was a daily routine of eat, busk, eat, busk, eat, sleep, for three-and-a-half months,” said Bresette. “Everywhere we went people were fascinated with American music, and American pop-culture in general. There isn’t a huge bluegrass following in all of Europe, but Ireland definitely has the biggest as far as I can tell, and rightfully so.”
Since then, Tricky Britches has found time to record another album, 2011’s “Hard Fought Day,” and invited banjo player Wilkinson to join the group. This summer, they’re keeping busy by playing lots of shows – along with the aforementioned gigs, they’re set to play the Norway Arts Festival on July 13, the Ossippee Valley Music Festival in Hiram on July 27, and the Saddleback Mountain Bluegrass Festival in Rangeley on Aug. 10. In the fall, they plan to record another album. And who knows what might happen in the winter.
“We may run away on another busking adventure when the snow starts to fly,” said Bresette.
For information, visit trickybritches.com.