Photo by Key Lime Photography
Rising ‘jamgrass’ band makes its mark on SoCal
By Jordan Houston
LA’s The Storytellers are sending a message loud and clear — bluegrass is not dead.
The five-piece progressive bluegrass band, comprised of guitarist-vocalist Scott Diehl, bassist-vocalist Lance Frantzich, banjoist Dave Burns, fiddler Tyler Emerson, and drummer and percussionist Steve Stelmach, hit the scene roughly four years ago.
Performing at bars, taverns and regional festivals throughout the state, the Storytellers “draw from the rich canon of traditional bluegrass, country blues, old-time and folk music as a basis for inspired improvisations and intrepid vocal harmonies.”
The “jamgrass” band maneuvers traditional and progressive approaches to the genre, inspired by the likes of Doc Watson, Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, to produce soulful, “bluegrassy” harmonies onstage.
“We would call ourselves bluegrass-ish,” Diehl says. “It’s difficult to label our music. We try to so that people know what they’re going to get into when they see us, but we’re also a jam band, including country and bluesy roots.”
Echoing his partner’s sentiments, Frantzich adds, “We play a lot of Grateful Dead — we call it ‘deadgrass.’ We really try to see ourselves as a bridge to bluegrass, because it has come and gone. We see ourselves as a part of the revival of that movement.”
Like cousins, jamgrass and bluegrass share similar elements. Jamgrass, however, incorporates more instruments, such as drums, electric guitars and “resophonic” slide dobro guitars, into its DNA. It is also a “more open-to-interpretation format,” pulling from rock and pop.
The current version of the band formed officially in February 2018. The Storytellers performed at more than 30 Los Angeles-area shows by the end of the year. The jam band has since gone on to grace the stages of the Mint, Molly Malone’s, The Coffee Gallery Backstage, Kulak’s Woodshed, The Trip, Old Towne Pub, Redwood Bar, The Theatricum Botanicum, Silverlake Lounge, Cinema Bar, Maui Sugar Mill Saloon and Villains Tavern.
“We are music lovers through and through,” Frantzich says. “We were attending a lot of shows, and at one point, we just decided that instead of attending all of these shows, we should just pick up instruments and start creating and playing music.”
The Storytellers have also snagged gigs at the June Lake Jam Fest, the Huck Finn Jubilee, the OC Music Festival, the Love Street Festival and the main stage of the California Avocado Festival.
Diehl says the inspiration behind the band’s name stems from the group’s desire to express meaningful and substantial stories through lyrics and music.
“We sing songs that are stories,” he says. “We pick out music that has meaning, depth and substance to it — which, frankly, can sometimes be lacking in some of today’s music. So, we really like to get onstage and connect with people.”
On top of performing improvised covers, the Storytellers are gearing up to launch “Howling in the Hills.” The CD, a blend of originals and bluegrass classics, will be engineered by Joshua “Cartier” Cutsinger at the Hayloft Studios.
Diehl and Frantzich say they are especially eager for the debut of one original piece in particular, “The Ballad of Bob Stane.” The song is a tribute to Stane, a legendary folk music promoter and owner of the Altadena Coffee Gallery Backstage. The Storytellers attribute Stane, who has worked with the ranks of the Dillards, The Association, the Smothers Brothers, Pat Paulsen, Lily Tomlin and Steve Martin, as a major factor in the early launch of its success.
“He is a legend in the music scene,” Diehl explains. “When we played for him the first time he told us, ‘OK, you’re doing this right and you’re doing this wrong.’ I’ll never forget he told us at one point, ‘If you don’t change your ways, you’re going to be a bar band instead of a class act.’”
The group will perform the ballad for Stane for the first time at the Coffee Gallery Backstage at 2029. N. Lake Avenue on November 5.
The Storytellers have managed to not only survive as live entertainers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but thrive. Last year, the musicians landed their acclaimed monthly “Bluegrass-Ish Brunch” residency at Hangar 24 Craft Brewing in Irvine.
“During COVID-19, we did do a couple of livestreams, but only like one or two, because we found a way to perform live while keeping it safe,” Diehl says, adding that the Storytellers are grateful for the brewery’s hospitality and support.
It has a gigantic outdoor space — there could be hundreds of people there that can still have their own socially distanced space,” he continues.
The jamgrass band performances at Hangar 24 every third Sunday will continue throughout 2022. For Frantzich, the monthly residency is an example of the loving community and kinship fostered between the band and its venues and audience members throughout the years.
“My favorite thing that has come out of this has been the community,” the bassist shares. “I can’t overstate the importance of our audience enough. We’ve come to love these people very much, and love is what we really want our whole musical experience to be about.”
The Storytellers will perform at various venues across the state through October, including hotspots like Fresno’s Barrelhouse Brewing and the Coffee Gallery Backstage. The jamgrass band will also return to the Gilley’s Las Vegas on October 22.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday, November 5
WHERE: Coffee Gallery Backstage, 2029 N. Lake Avenue, Altadena
COST: Visit website for more info
INFO: storytellersband.com or coffeegallery.com