Trout Steak Revival’s Future Seems ‘Brighter Every Day’
Travis McNamara and Will Koster were in the crowd when Tim O’Brien began singing “Megna’s” at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
About halfway through the tune about a neighborhood grocer who sells melons and strawberries, Koster turned to McNamara declaring he too wanted to write a song about food.
The next song the dobro and guitar player brought to Trout Steak Revival, the Denver-based roots music outfit that also features McNamara (banjo), Steve Foltz (mandolin/guitar), Bevin Foley (fiddle) and Casey Houlihan (upright bass), was the song “Pie,” which appears on the band’s new album, Brighter Every Day.
“Will loves food songs, but I wasn’t sure if he was serious until he brought it to us,” McNamara says, laughing as the band travels through Wisconsin as part of their tour. “But Will is proud of his Dutch heritage and his mom is a great baker, so he wrote this honest-to-goodness song about loving pie. It’s just one of those reminders that not everything has to be that serious. It’s OK to have fun.”
Since winning the band competition at the 41st annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival last year, Trout Steak Revival has been having more fun than usual. Winning the prestigious competition means Trout Steak Revival becomes the first band booked to play this year’s festival, which, as in years past, is sure to sell out.
On the heels of that breakout win comes the 11-song album Brighter Every Day, which was released April 2. The album opens with “Union Pacific,” a railroad song about weary travelers pining for home. Other standouts are “Ours For The Taking,” originally written by Houlihan for his fiancé; “Wind On The Mountain,” McNamara’s true tale about getting caught in a snowstorm during a backpacking trip; and the closer “Colorado River,” a raucous ode to the band’s adopted Rocky Mountain home.
The album, produced by Chris Pandolfi of The Infamous Stringdusters, was recorded live to tape over six days last fall in the Denver studio Notably Fine Audio.
“Chris is a big believer in finding what can you do to serve the song over everything else,” McNamara says. “In the studio, he has an engineer’s mind as well as a musician’s mind, so he could tell what was happening emotionally and musically in the room and making sure it was being captured on tape. Recording it live just made it feel like there’s something on the line every time because every take could be the one. Just one of those has lightning in it, and that’s the one we wanted to catch.”
McNamara, who also wrote the title track, says he originally penned it as a wedding gift for two friends.
“I was terrified to begin with,” he says. “But I ended up writing them this tune and playing it solo on the banjo for them in the chapel. After that, I brought it to the band, and it just sort of stuck around and became so much more. Creatively, I think that song just echoed everything that was happening.”
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 swapping Neil Young and Bob Dylan covers as counselors at Camp Henry.
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. They released their self-titled debut in 2010, followed by 2012’s Flight. With Brighter Every Day, however, the band seems poised to build on last year’s success.
“I feel really lucky to play in this band,” McNamara says. “We’ve been playing a lot of shows in front of a lot of different people. What I’ve found and I think we’ve all found is there’s something powerful about singing about positivity and singing about hope. If you put that out in the room, they give it back to you. That’s what we want to do when we play. I think that’s reflected on the songs on this album. Telluride may have poured fuel on that fire, but the fire was already burning.”
A version of this article originally appeared in The Herald-Palladium newspaper of Saint Joseph, Mich.