Trout Steak Revival Riding Rocky Mountain High
It’s been five months since Denver-based Trout Steak Revival won the band competition at the 41st annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and the impact of that moment is just starting to set in.
Winning the competition means Trout Steak Revival becomes the first band booked to play next year’s prestigious festival, which, as in years past, is sure to sell out. It also means the five-member mountain music band joins the ranks of previous winners Nickel Creek, the Dixie Chicks and Greensky Bluegrass.
“That was one of the best days of our lives, and we’re still feeling it,” banjo player and Grand Rapids, Mich. native Travis McNamara says by telephone from Denver. “I had a full-time job and put in my two-week notice right after Telluride. We had a really full summer to begin with but after Telluride we just got so many more opportunities to play. We got a headlining slot at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, and festivals for next summer are being booked now.”
The win also inspired Trout Steak Revival — which, in addition to McNamara, includes Steve Foltz (mandolin/guitar), Will Koster (dobro/guitar), Bevin Foley (fiddle) and Casey Houlihan (upright bass) — to set out on the band’s first Midwest tour.
“Since we all quit our jobs it’s been fun to talk creatively about tours and what we wanted to do,” McNamara says. “I’m from Grand Rapids, Will’s from Kent City, Mich., and Steve and Casey are from Wisconsin. It’s where we grew up, it’s where our roots are. We have so many friends and family who have supported us but have never seen us play. So this Midwest tour is one of the first things we wanted to do.”
Although Trout Steak Revival is firmly rooted in Colorado’s thriving string-band scene, its origins can be traced back to Newaygo, Mich., where McNamara, Koster and Houlihan first started playing together as counselors at Camp Henry.
“As counselors you play a lot of acoustic music around the campfire,” McNamara says. “Late at night, we were hanging out and swapping covers, learning Neil Young covers and Bob Dylan covers. In fact, Will and I played our first live show ever to a bunch of counselors at the Sportsman’s Bar there in Newaygo.”
The trio stayed in contact. Foltz met Houlihan in college at the University of Minnesota, and all four musicians eventually landed in Colorado where they met Foley and got swept up in Colorado’s string-band movement. Unlike many bluegrass bands rooted in Appalachia, the members of Trout Steak Revival came to the style without the traditional pedigree. For example, Foley, the lone Colorado native in the group, played classical violin from childhood through college. McNamara, meanwhile, learned piano from his mother, who was a music teacher, and also played drums and dabbled in guitar and mandolin.
“None of us really come from a bluegrass background,” McNamara says. “But coming to Colorado, string music, bluegrass music and acoustic music is just happening here. It’s all guitars, banjos, mandolins and stand-up basses. So as musicians, playing acoustic music seemed to make the most sense, but we’ve been able to dive deep into that music and find new American acoustic music that we love. It’s kind of become an amalgamation of all of that, and we chose our instruments to get to that sound.”
McNamara was the original mandolinist until Foltz picked it up, McNamara learned the banjo when Houlihan abandoned it for the bass, and Koster added the dobro. Since then, Trout Steak Revival has earned a place in the mountain states bluegrass scene, putting out two independent albums — a 2010 self-titled release and 2012’s Flight — and placing third in the 2012 RockyGrass band competition.
After winning Telluride, the band recorded its third album, Brighter Every Day, with help from Chris Pandolfi of the Infamous Stringdusters, which, McNamara says, is expected to be released next spring. The band will be road testing many of the songs off that album during their Midwest swing.
“The name of the album comes from the track ‘Everyday,’ which is a song that I wrote for two of my friends here in Colorado who got married,” McNamara says. “It’s about love. It’s about hope. I think we all love playing it because thematically that’s how our whole next record sounds. With Flight, we were still figuring out our sound and a lot of those songs were about searching. This next album, I’d say the theme is positivity and hope.”
After Telluride, it’s clear that Trout Steak Revival has a lot to feel hopeful about.
“We’ve been going to Telluride these last five years and meeting all these great musicians,” McNamara adds. “So when we played in the finals and saw all these friends supporting us in the audience and all of these other bluegrass bands, then we won it, it just kind of felt like we all won it together. We’re really grateful. It’s the best year we could ask for.”