Sweet Sunny South plays Palisade Festival in Aspen
When Sweet Sunny South, Western Colorados most beloved old-time bluegrass band, played the Palisade Bluegrass and Roots Festival in Aspen on June 12, they were at home onstage and off, still sharing a single mic and a glowing appreciation for Western Colorado – and the success theyve earned there – over nearly a decade playing together.
“We feel this sense of community,” guitarist Rob Miller says. “Everyone knows our families and our kids, and they come to our shows. We played in Nevada two weeks ago, and not one person knew who we were.”
In Palisade, the band delivered their trademark toe-tapping set, featuring many tunes from their fourth studio effort, “Carried Off by a Twister” (a quote from fiddle player Cory Oberts favorite movie, 1987s “Raising Arizona”), lots of dancing and that localized, family feel the four so deeply treasure.
In 2008, however, the foursome almost went its separate ways when Powers and Gray announced they were setting off for Nashville. But when family interests took precedence, they remained in Paonia. The break was a great opportunity for the band to regroup, Miller says, and figure out how to weave outside interests with Sweet Sunny South gigs.
Longtime partners Bill Powers (banjo/mandolin/vocals) and Shelley Gray (bass/vocals) have a side project called Honey Dont (Google em); Cory Obert (fiddle) and his wife, Andrea, are recording under the name “Hard Pressed.” Miller and his wife own Pickin Productions, which books bands.
As such, its not as easy to see Sweet Sunny South live these days, as Miller estimates theyve gone from 80 or 90 shows a year to 40 or 50.
“Youd think it would be nuts, and it is,” Powers says with a slight grin. “Everybodys super busy, but it just keeps me sane, being able to have other outlets and make room for the kids as theyre getting older.”
Along with friend Mike Finders, Powers is also one-half of “The Plowboys,” the musical guests for a canoe/camping trip down the Gunnison River from Aug. 13 to 15. Food, canoes and professional guides are included; more information and tickets can be found at Centennialcanoe.com.
On “Twister,” the group continues the tradition of ending the record with a radio jingle, this time for Western Colorado public radio station KVNF, and the Miller-penned tune “Ghost of Gram” features an interesting use of a sitar, a first for the band. “Every time we go into the studio, were looking for something different,” Miller says, adding that this time, creativity was front of mind.
“We feel like weve found what our sound is,” Miller says. “We used to try to be a bluegrass band, then maybe we thought we were more of an old-time band. And then we realized we were really mostly just singer-songwriters trapped in a bluegrass setting. When we realized that, we just said Cool! and then put it all together.”