The Jon Stickley Trio is, L-R: Lyndsay Pruett, Jon Stickley and Patrick Armitage. Their video was shot in such a field. They dominated local video awards, and just played at LEAF.
The Asheville-based trio’s energetic “Point to Point” was chosen as best overall video April 13, by both video judges and by texts of the packed Diana Wortham Theatre crowd.
Judges also awarded the band the prestigious award for best video song/soundtrack for their frenzied eclectic-styled instrumental “Point to Point.” That is valuable since “you’re getting recognized for the music,” guitarist Stickley told The Tribune, in an interview at LEAF. His trio was the talk of the festival, along with many Latin acts. Stickley formed the trio four years back. This lineup emerged two years ago.
People can hear them Friday, May 27, 7-8 p.m. in the White Squirrel Festival in downtown Brevard.
“We were shocked” to beat the other 24 entrances let alone three times, percussionist Patrick Armitage said. West Webb produced the video. The band was filmed playing their song in a field at UNC-Asheville. Their studio recording predated the video and was mixed in as is common in video production.
“It was fun to add a visual to it,” fiddler Lyndsay Pruett said. Local TV (web comedy Transplanting) actress Hayley Heninger portrayed the main character. Stickley said the theme of the song and video is to “find ourselves,” by connecting varying experiences “point to point.”
Their music’s sheer force carried the video. Stickley’s supersonic-paced and “precise flatpicking” guitar is complemented superbly by Lyndsay Pruett’s sizzling fiddling and Patrick Armitage’s brisk drumming. They blend smoothly and take turns in the spotlight with gripping solos.
On “Point to Point,” Stickley’s prickly opening gains speed. Pruett kicks in with riveting violin. A juncture with Stickley’s crisp licks and Armitage’s bold drumming ensues, forging powerful sound.
“Epic hard-driving ‘badassery’” is how Stickley describes his idol Tony Rice’s flatpicking. Others agree it also fits Stickley’s guitar energy on CDs and even more live. Another comparison of the trio is a range from “elegance to rawness,” as Durham native Stickley described Rice. Stickley, 32, honored Tony with the tune “Rice Dream.” It is initially pensively-paced, then spirals.
This is among tunes from their second and latest acoustic CD, Lost at Last. Fan-funded, it was recorded in Asheville’s premier studio Echo Mountain and self-released in October. Covers include of Bela Fleck’s “Slopes.” Half of tunes are original, mostly by Stickley. He said “after one of us has the idea, we arrange together.”
Several who are more into other genres said they liked the Jon Stickley Trio’s progressive mix of bluegrass, rock and other flavors. Stickley reasons “bluegrass nerds (purists) will like it. Those not into bluegrass will get into” the energy.
Seasoned musicians and other listeners were captivated by the trio’s compelling, energetic sound and its intricacies and complexities. These are most evident on frenetic “Point to Point” and “Darth Radar” (both by Stickley) and “Flight of the Durban.”
For instance, Pruett often plays the baseline notes on violin. The Jacksonville, Fla. native teaches violin at Asheville Music Academy and UNCA, and fiddle at local Acoustic Corner.
Their playing very contrasting (multiple) polyrhythms at once and fluidly impressed Kathleen Fownes of Boston. Like Pruett, Fownes is an energetic fiddler — with Celtic-oldtime (contra dancing) band Nova that played at this LEAF. She was walking by Eden Hall when the Stickley Trio sound compelled her to check it out. She lauded Stickley’s brisk flatpicking “finger flows.”
Dan Johnston, country-Americana singer-songwriter, praised the “ingenuity of their arrangements.” He said the trio retains quality, while improvising flourishes.
Indeed, the Jon Stickley Trio has an acumen for improvising boldly, yet remaining tightly synchronized. Stickley credits producer Dave King and drummer Armitage for reigning in Stickley’s veering knack to retain a tight sound. Though most ears cannot detect it, “you sacrifice some perfection” for much creative spurts, Stickley said
The other two’s “job is to be flashy” at key moments, Armitage said, while he spices a steady beat with some flourishes. “I help provide a pocketed framework, a foundation of rhythm and groove for them to venture out from.”
Billy Jack Sinkovic commended their “stretching out” solos, while still being “tight” within the basic melody. “They nailed it.” Sinkovic, a recording cellist, preceded Ehren Cruz in booking LEAF bands.
A bonus to the trio’s appeal is their down-to-earth looks, fashion and demeanor, cohesion, and modest touring out of a basic van. “The most intense we are is on stage,” Armitage said. “We’re all really ‘chilled,’ very easy-going. There’s no drama between us.”
Focusing on their craft, they shun theatrical stage antics. Yet Stickley said he is developing more playfulness, such as when he and Pruett laughed to each other.
“We adjust to the crowd’s vibe,” ready to adjust the playlist’s tempo, Stickley said. He said they fed off of the enthusiastic LEAF crowd, and were at their most energetic and up-tempo. “Their energy comes through live,” their publicist Erin Scholze said. The band said they eye taping at several venues, for a live CD. Scholze hopes to land a gaming or movie soundtrack.
They like LEAF’s mix of cultures, generations and outdoors. This was the trio’s debut there. Stickley had played LEAF with Town Mountain.
The trio mixes musical genres. “I’m playing (quick electronic) house music beats” as “Darth Radar” reaches “hyper speed,” morphing the tune from (Jamaican pre-reggae) Ska upbeat to surf rock and other styles, Armitage said. The song slickly skims along, then blusters with harrowing chords.
Other styles fuse into traditional bluegrass. A classical-like gentleness flows from Pruett’s violin featured on her own “Goa,” “The High Road,” and Stickley’s “Octopickin” and “Palmlico Sound.”
Their medley including earthy grunge legend Nirvana reflects their generation’s roots. Stickley has been in Indy rock and bluegrass bands. He grew up with punk and grunge rock. He gravitated from newgrass to purer bluegrass, and has a side band Nerdgrass. Pruett, 32, is classically trained. Her gypsy jazz influenced their earlier work and recent cover of “Valse de Wasso.”
Armitage, 39, played in the “R&B and hip-hop scenes” and once toured with the Beastie Boys. He also liked punk. He studied drumming for six years under fellow Minneapolis native King, 45, progressive jazz-rock drummer who led the renown The Bad Plus. “You put it all into a beaker, shake it and see how it comes out,” Armitage quipped of their styles..
King convinced Stickley to forego his fine bluegrass vocals to amplify their instrumental prowess, venturing more into creative newgrass. Their next CD is due out this fall. They describe its feel as ranging from gentle to energetic.
“They should be nationally touring,” Sinkovic concluded, rating them top flight. They landed gigs recently in New York and next month are in Colorado, band manager Julianne Heninger noted. They have played Merlefest. Locally, LEAF is the trio’s biggest gig while the video awards boosted awareness, Heninger said.
She noted a good review in the New York Times last fall triggered wider air play then bigger gigs. They sparked standing ovations playing live on the Nashville’s Music City Roots radio show. Their three songs included new “Echo Location.” The trio aired twice this year on National Public Radio (NPR), once in February live in The Grey Eagle in Asheville in NPR World Cafe’s Sense of Place series.
The Stickley Trio dominated the ninth annual Music Video Asheville gala. Others shined. Veteran country singer Don Clayton won best cinematography, for a rowdy patio party scene in “BBQ” that also featured his wife Alexandra.
Clayton and Stickley were among a select few making several award finals. So were Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band for “24/7,” 2015 people’s choice Stephanie’s id with “Excavator.” Indigo De Souza won best song for the past two years, and was a finalist this time for “Sleep Talking.
Sophisticated teen sibling trio Posh Hammer won best costume design, for “Absolutely Everyone.” The trio consists of Reza and Eva Setayesh’s children — tall, bespectacled Nanied, 18, and his twin sisters Tiam and Tasnim, 16. Lead singer Tasnim starred as the servant who feels to find herself, in their video’s posh dinner scene. Posh Hammer enjoyed the crowd feedback playing live on stage, just ahead of the awards.
Best visual design went to Ten Cent Poetry for “Night Time Moonshine,” which launched with super closeups of fingers on instruments. The best editing award went to Luzius Stone’s rock-rap “Fire in the Sky,” for Parker Pfister’s shadowy effects.
Jacob Moya produced rapper Mook! in “Focus,” which implores to keep “eyes on the Prize.” Moya said the song urges to “focus, and never give up.”
There were nearly twice as many videos submitted (47) than accepted (25) in the first three months of the year, organizer Kelly Denson told The Tribune. She said by far, there were more bluegrass and country acts than usual.
She noted the pre-show, wine-beer reception provided networking for area-based musicians and filmmakers. “This is the greatest networking event of the year. for filmmakers and musicians to meet each other.”