Preview: AJ Lee & Blue Summit w/ Two Runner

There’s bluegrass and new grass, and fine, California grass, all of which are elevating and legal in Utah (at least the musical strain). AJ Lee & Blue Summit bring their hefty blend to The State Room on Wednesday, November 8, 2023.

The Bay Area genre-bending quintet fuses bluegrass with country and folk to create a highly stylized American roots sound. Banjoless, the band leans on mandolin, fiddle, upright bass and acoustic guitars to deliver a powerful old-time string band sound. (Banjoless bluegrass? Is that a contradiction in terms?)

Singer-songwriter and mandolinist AJ Lee, who’s been playing the bluegrass circuit since the age of seven, leads the group. Lee’s music teacher, Jack Tuttle, recruited her to play in his family band The Tuttles (featuring siblings Molly, Sullivan and Michael). When Molly Tuttle left to pursue a highly successful solo career,  Lee and Sullivan Tuttle formed AJ Lee and Blue Summit with Lee on lead vocals and mandolin, Tuttle and Scott Gates on guitar, Jan Purat on fiddle and Chad Bowen on upright bass. 

The band’s critically-acclaimed 2019 Debut album Like I Use To Be earned Lee the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Momentum Award for Vocalist of the Year. The album featured an amalgam of acoustic musical styles, including “Pirate Song” which draws from Irish folk ballads and “Still Love You Still,” an old-school mix of fiddle, mandolin, and guitar fingerpicking for a more Appalachian flavor.

Their 2021 sophomore album, I’ll Come Back, brings them “Back to Bluegrass.” Lee penned 11 well-crafted songs with a made-for-the-stage feel, leaving room for each band member to stretch out their musical skills. “Lemons and Tangerines,” a well-harmonized, acoustic torch song compliments more traditional numbers. “When You Change Your Mind” has a new-age, down-in-the-holler musical vibe.

If a banjoless string band has got you feeling anxious, don’t fret (musical pun intended). Opening the show is the Northern California acoustic folk duo, Two Runner. Paige Anderson and Emilie Rose blend a twangy clawhammer banjo and fiddle with sweet vocal harmonies. Anderson, also a musical child prodigy, grew up playing bluegrass with her siblings in the Anderson Family Bluegrass. 

Two Runner released their debut album Modern Cowboy in March. The record features a fresh mix of eclectic mountain music that finds a home in the High Sierra, Rockies, or along the Appalachian Trail. An upright bass, banjo, and fiddle provides a foot stomping beat to their harmonies in “Devil’s Rowdydow.” The album stretches the boundaries of bluegrass, folk, and country, capturing a big sound with minimal instrumentation and well-blended vocals. 

I’m looking forward to a midweek adventure with some of the finest musicians in the business. 

Who: AJ Lee & Blue Summit w/ Two Runner

What: California Bluegrass

Where: The State Room

When: Wednesday, November 8, 2023 

Tickets and info:

John Nelson
John Nelson
John Nelson covers the local music scene for Salt Lake magazine. He is a 20-year veteran of Uncle Sam’s Flying Circus with a lifelong addiction to American roots music, live music venues, craft beer and baseball.

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