Flatpicking, one of the hallmarks of bluegrass music, requires both patience and precision. There are many flatpickers in the world of Americana . . . but not all are created equal, and few can be said to have mastered this distinctive style of guitar playing. Lucky for Ventura County music lovers, one of the best will be coming to Ojai this weekend. National flatpicking champion Tyler Grant and his bourgeoning band, Grant Farm, will perform multiple shows at the Deer Lodge and this year’s Caravan to WonderGrass festival.
Starting his professional musical journey in Southern California, Grant attended CalArts, earning a bacherlor’s degree in guitar performance. After graduation he broke for Nashville, landing a spot in Adrienne Young’s band. He toured with Young for two years, covered the musical director duties and recorded on two of her albums, including the Grammy-nominated Plow to the End of the Row. Between 2003 and 2009, Grant would go on to take first place in several flatpicking competitions, including the 2003 RockyGrass Instrument Contest and the 2009 MerleFest Doc Watson Guitar Championship. The most impressive triumph Grant would enjoy, however, was at the 2008 Walnut Valley Flat Pick Guitar Competition, where he won the esteemed title of National Flatpicking Champion.
While receiving these accolades, significant opportunities were presenting themselves, including collaborations with two of the leading frontmen in the jam-band genre, Drew Emmitt (Leftover Salmon) and Bill Nershi (String Cheese Incident). His involvement with the Drew Emmitt Band and the Emmitt-Nershi Band would ultimately lead him to Grant Farm, starting with a move from Nashville to Fort Collins, Colorado. The Centennial State was at the time a Mecca of sorts for those steeped in the Americana, bluegrass and folk scenes; and that’s where the current lineup of Grant Farm would form: Adrian Engfer on bass and vocals, Sean Macaulay on drums and Kevin McHugh on keyboards and vocals.
“It was an evolution of the Emmitt-Nershi Band originally, because I was playing in that originally when I moved to Colorado,” Grant explained. “So Andy Thorn (Leftover Salmon) and I were looking for a little side project to play some of our original music, and that was the first time we used the name Grant Farm. . . . Musicians tend to find each other, in one community or another. I didn’t take auditions, I didn’t put out an ad. [Musicians] just have these networks where we ask around and find the players that will best suit the sound you’re going for.”
Having two original albums already under its belt, last year saw the release of Grant Farm’s first full-length concept album, Kiss the Ground. This homage to the “working-class people” covers such diverse topics as economic struggle, social injustice, mythological tangibility and how the unwavering human spirit can overcome.
“We started getting into more of a theme and a storyline with our songs. So we discovered, just from exploring different mythologies and archetypes, that we could utilize these in our songs,” Grant recalled. “And so we started working a lot of characters and stories into our songs.”
It was also in Colorado that Grant would become involved with the WinterWonderGrass festival at the ground level. This cozy, colorful and eco-conscious event is held twice a year. The first celebration is at the end of February in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and the second is held at Squaw Valley, California, in early April. Grant is the only musician to perform at every WinterWonderGrass, and that’s the reason he’s coming to our little town of Ojai: to keep the tradition alive.
Ojai’s Caravan to WonderGrass (a spinoff of WinterWonderGrass) is a three-day extravaganza of bohemian bliss, combining elements of music, art and community. The purchase of a three-day ticket ($158) provides attendees with a dichotomy of both intimate and large festival environments, starting with Friday night’s farm-to-table dinner located at the Caravan Outpost. This event will feature a storytelling stage performance by transcendental folk outfit Elephant Revival and other special guests. The next day is the full-on music festival at the Libbey Bowl, featuring Grant Farm and Elephant Revival along with local acts Radio Skies, The Chillz, Wally Ingram, Danny McGaw and Scotty Stoughton (plus some other special guests). Starting at 1 p.m., the music won’t stop until 8 p.m., providing a showcase of talent seldom seem in these parts. And at only $39 for the entire day, this is absolutely a must-have ticket.
Those who throw down for the three-day tickets will have a chance to keep the party going at the “Sunday Morning Send-off.” Held from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Caravan Outpost, this fete will see a sweet spread of coffee, tea and pastries, as well as an acoustic performance by Bonnie Paine and friends. It should be a beautiful ending to a magical weekend.
Tyler Grant and Friends perform in Ojai on Thursday, Nov. 16, at the Deer Lodge, 2261 Maricopa Highway, and on Saturday, Nov. 18, at Libbey Bowl, 210 S. Signal St. For more information, visit libbeybowl.org, caravan.elephantrevival.com and www.deerlodgeojai.com.