Every Thursday night at Boulder’s Under the Sun restaurant, the scene is similar: a packed restaurant, a line of customers out the door and the soft sound of live Bluegrass music bouncing through the air.
These weekly Bluegrass Picks were first organized by one of the restaurant’s general managers, Benjamin Ross, and musician Max Kabbatt. Over summer 2022, after Kabbatt played for a private wedding held in the restaurant, the two realized that acoustic Bluegrass music would be a great alternative to the bigger, louder bands that previously played at the restaurant.
“Bluegrass is just a fun thing to be around and listen to,” Ross said. “It just brings a little faster-paced atmosphere and attitude to the space.”
Colorado is known for its legendary Bluegrass music scene. The unique, jovial fusion of different American blues and folk music has distinguished the Colorado sound for decades. Though it might not be the youngest, hippest genre, according to fans, the music resonates deeply with its listeners.
“It’s like talking to a young person that has an old soul,” said Wren Barrington, a waitress at Mountain Sun.
The Picks attract a weekly crowd of Bluegrass fans that appreciate the unique, upbeat vibe that Bluegrass brings to the already lively space.
“I think I’ve been to every Bluegrass show they’ve had here,” said David Wood, a customer and Bluegrass fan. “The staff here is great. The beer is awesome. It’s just a great vibe. You just look around and everyone’s having a great time. It’s something else.”
Under the Sun opened in 2013, but the restaurant group’s primary location, Mountain Sun, has been bringing Bluegrass to Boulder since 1993.
“Mountain Sun already has roots going all the way back to a bunch of Bluegrass bands. Even Yonder Mountain String Band – that’s a very famous Bluegrass band – started at Mountain Sun,” Ross said.
The band’s relationship with the restaurant company even inspired “Yonder Mountain Stout,” according to Ross, which is featured on Under the Sun’s Stout Month menu this February.
“[Yonder Mountain String Band] and other bands like that put Boulder on the map as a place where great musicians go to play,” said Wood, who’s been attending Bluegrass shows since he moved to Boulder in 1993.
“It feels like a personal connection to watch someone make this music,” Barrison said. “Bluegrass is a small community, and the larger community wants to come in and listen to musicians who aren’t in a band together but just want to play together. That’s a beautiful thing.”
The musicians playing in the Pick change every week, but the focus is always on musical collaboration.
“This is the cool thing about Bluegrass is that it is a community thing,” Chris Herbst, a musician participating in the Pick, said. “All different kinds of walks of life come together and just jam this music.”
“It spans generations,” he added. “I think that’s because it’s fun. It’s easy enough to be somewhat accessible, but it’s hard enough to keep you practicing the rest of your life.”
Just as musicians come back to Under the Sun each Thursday to enjoy the interactive challenge of picking together, listeners come to enjoy the distinctly cheerful and analog tradition of Bluegrass music.
“A lot of Bluegrass comes from back in the day when it was just a way to get together and do something fun,” Ross said. “It’s not just for entertainment’s sake, it’s a way to ground you to everyday actions and community.”
Barrington, leaning against the bar with a beer in hand, agreed.
“In a world that’s started to feel more and more isolated, it’s nice to have something that’s real and tangible in person that makes you feel like you belong right away,” she said.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Emi Ambory at firstname.lastname@example.org.