The muddy Willamette River that runs through Portland, Oregon, may not be as famous as the mighty Mississippi, but it forms theborder of a new form of American roots music, informed both by the traditions of the American South and the rainy woods of the Northwest. Portland bluegrass band Jackstraw has been the flagship of this movement since they formed in 1997. They know their bluegrass history and don’t hesitate to pay homage to their heroes, like the Stanley Brothers, but this ain’t your standard bluegrass band. These boys have a cutting edge take on bluegrass picking that they’ve developed over years of touring the United States and their original songs can sound as much country as oldtime. This is bluegrass that belongs in a dusty honky-tonk, country twang as rooted in Bill Monroe as George Jones, an old-timey sound for a new age.
Jackstraw formed in 1997 when rhythm guitarist Darrin Craig and lead player Jon Neufeld met mandolin picker David Pugh and bassist Jesse Withers at Artichoke Music, a Portland guitar store. Six records and 14 years later, the band has toured throughout the United States, playing roadhouses, clubs, listening rooms and festivals. Along the way, they’ve shared bills with bluegrass greats such as Del McCoury and Tim O’Brien and welcomed legends like Danny Barnes and Tony Furtado as temporary band mates. The band’s devoted following includes bluegrass purists, altcountry fans, kids looking to dance, and people who know a good tune when they hear one. Jackstraw has developed a reputation over the years for their impeccable musicianship and hard-driving original songs.
In addition to their work in Jackstraw, each band member is also an in-demand member of the flourishing Portland music scene. Guitarist Jon Neufeld plays with Black Prairie, the Decemberists’ acoustic side-project and alt country sensation Dolorean, and Darrin Craig, Jesse Withers and David Pugh all play with their own highly regarded outfits. Most recently, Jackstraw brought on local star banjo player Cory Goldman (Water Tower Bucket Boys). The addition of Goldman’s blazing-hot, funky banjo lines has added even more depth to the band. With the release of their latest album, Sunday Never Comes in early 2012, the praise has been rolling in for their new sound, and Jackstraw has been playing major festivals and touring across the country.
Before Portland was on the map as the roots music capitol of America, Jackstraw was there, building the foundation of this community with their hard-worn picking and lonesome harmonies.