Review: Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway w/ Cristina Vane

Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway, one of the most innovative and exciting artists on the American roots music scene, thrilled us with a 22-song foray into their progressive bluegrass sound at The Commonwealth Room on Thursday, October 19, 2023. 

Like the Grateful Dead, who a generation ago blended folk, rock, country, and bluegrass into a Northern California hippy jam-band subgenre, Tuttle and her band of virtuosi have reinterpreted bluegrass with a unique and trippy 21st century flair.  Even so, bluegrass purists have nothing to fear. As masters of the musical style, Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway make the genre fresh and fun with their millennial, ironic humor and innovative artistry.

Tuttle started us off with the rootsy, toe-tapping “Evergreen, OK,” “El Dorado,” and “Side Saddle.” She advocates for the legalization of marijuana with a throw-back bluegrass tempo on “Down Home Dispensary.” 

At the mid-point in the show the more traditional string band sound took a dark and foreboding Alice in Wonderland turn with “Stranger Things,” followed by “Alice in the Bluegrass,” and “White Rabbit.” This three-song sequence was the night’s biggest highlight for me, in an evening full of highlights. Golden Highway drew sounds from their traditional bluegrass instruments (mandolin, banjo, and fiddle) that took us down a sonic rabbit hole. Dominick Leslie’s mandolin sounded like an ominous, Spanish guitar while Kyle Tuttle (no relation to Molly) turned his banjo into a Hendrix Stratocaster. Bronwyn Keith-Hynes drove a frenzied, psychedelic, bluegrass tempo with her fiddle. Towards the end of our journey through Wonderland, we met Shelby Means as she plucked the beginning notes of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” on her upright bass. What a thrill ride. The crowd emerged from the rabbit hole singing “Feed your head.” Who knew bluegrass could be so much fun? 

Tuttle gave the Golden Highway a short break from the frantic pace, performing solo “First Time I Fell in Love,” a great, new country-folk tune that reminded me of “Mr. Bojangles.” Tuttle played 10 songs from her recently released album City of Gold, a master work rivaling her 2022 Grammy-winner Crooked Tree. Tuttle took us to “Dooley’s Farm,” a great Blue Ridge Mountain barn-burner of a song about weed farming in the underground economy. On the Western outlaw tune “Castilleja,” each member of Golden Highway got to do a little solo jamming. The pace rarely slowed as we entered the homestretch with “Where Did All the Wild Things Go?” 

Tuttle took a moment to share a story about her journey with an autoimmune disease called Alopecia that resulted in total hair loss. She said she wrote the song “Crooked Tree” about the way she felt as a result of her condition. She then boldly removed her wig and played the song. She kept it all organic for the final two numbers starting with the catchy “San Joaquin,” and the finale “Take The Journey.”  The crew returned for an encore with “More Like A River.” Opener Cristina Vane joined them on stage as the whole ensemble ended a magnificent performance with a sing-a-long of Dylan’s well-covered “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” 

Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway are certainly going somewhere. Like the Dead, I envision a growing cult following at their shows. I also predict many more Grammy Awards and other honors in their future. I’m grateful for the opportunity to see this powerhouse band in an intimate space like the Commonwealth Room.

Nashville-based singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Cristina Vane opened with a solo set. From the first few fingerpicking notes on her resonator guitar, Vane commanded the room. She captivated the full-house with the title track from her latest album Make Myself Me Again. Taking us on an American-roots musical journey with a tight, 10-song set of originals, she flatpicked her way across the Great Plains with “Badlands,” before serenading us with “Dreaming of Utah.” The audience got a sneak-peek of a couple of new songs that she hasn’t released yet with “Getting High in Hotel Rooms” and “Storm Brewing.” Golden Highway’s multi-award winning fiddle player, Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, joined Vane for a fiddle/banjo duet on “River Roll.” 

Born and raised in Europe, Vane came to the US to attend college and discovered American blues. Her growing interest in the clawhammer banjo and country and bluegrass music facilitated a move to Nashville. For her closing number she put it all together with “Small Town Nashville Blues.”

For an evening featuring 32 songs, it went by much too quickly. Special thanks to KRCL for sponsoring the show. 

Who: Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway w/ Cristina Vane

What: Road to El Dorado Tour

Where: The Commonwealth Room

When: Thursday, October 19, 2023

Info: www.thestateroompresents.com

Photo by Stephen Speckman

John Nelson
John Nelsonhttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
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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