Trail Mix – Jon Stickley

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On his latest release, Jon Stickley hopscotches across musical genres.

Just this weekend, I was sitting at a local festival and chatting with a good friend about how really traditional bluegrass just isn’t my thing. I meant no disrespect towards the collection of top notch local pickers who were performing at the time, but I like my string music beyond the pale. While I appreciate the history of the genre, my ear is drawn more to those artists that expand the music’s scope and infuse it with sounds and influences not necessarily native to the bluegrass tradition.

This explains why I am such a big fan of Jon Stickley.

Stickley, along with the trio that bears his name, works to erase musical boundaries. The notion that any given genre – jazz, hip hop, or even heavy metal – cannot be entertained by a string band is a notion that Stickley and bandmates Lyndsey Pruett and Patrick Armitage will not heed.

Lost At Last, the trio’s newest record that released last week, is a collection of eleven genre hopping instrumental tracks that includes six originals and some tasty covers from songwriters like Bela Fleck, Tim O’Brien, and Andy Thorn. Stickley, Pruett, and Armitage move effortlessly throughout, shifting gears easily between somber laments like “Rice’s Dream” and the more aggressive themes in “Darth Radar.”

This trio is truly gifted at collecting and reforging disparate sounds.

I recently caught up with Jon Stickley to chat about the new record, old guitars, and even a bit of Star Wars.

BRO – You guys picked up a mention in the New York Times. Welcome to the big time!

JS – Thanks! It’s pretty hard to believe, and we are thrilled, to say the least.

BRO – I have long envied your Martin guitar. How much of its history do you know?

JS – It’s a 1956 Martin D-18. I bought it in 2001. The seller told me it had belonged to a well known banjo player in Charlotte, but that’s all I know. At some point, someone added diamond inlays to the fretboard.

BRO – We are featuring “Point To Point” on this month’s Trail Mix. Can you discuss how you developed the riff to describe how you develop songs?

JS – I wanted to write a song in more of a traditional flatpicking style, so that was what inspired the main theme. Of course, after presenting it to the trio and putting it through their lens, it became something else entirely. “Point To Point” has become a musical metaphor for our band: traditional roots with a fresh perspective.

BRO – So many songwriters tell stories with their words. As an instrumental ensemble, how do you convey stories without them?

JS – We use our instruments as outlets for our feelings. I like songs with voices and words, but more often than not, instrumental music is what moves me. There’s a lot of room for interpretation and personalization.

BRO – How loudly would Darth Vader jam “Darth Radar”?

JS – I think ol’ Darth would probably pop “Darth Radar” into the stereo of his TIE fighter just after takeoff to get pumped for battle against the Rebels. If fact, if he had had this song to inspire him, he would definitely have never been defeated in the first place.

The Jon Stickley Trio celebrated the release of Lost At Last in Asheville last week. You can catch them in Raleigh, North Carolina, tomorrow (Oct. 15) and in South Carolina and Florida later this month.

For more details on the band, tour dates, and how you can grab a copy of the new record, surf over to Also, be sure to take a listen to “Point To Point,” which is featured on this month’s Trail Mix.

Photo by Heather Hambor.

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