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Sound Circuit

Alleygrass

5/31/2023

Alleygrass is an up-and-coming bluegrass/jam band that is performing at the Bevington Bluegrass Festival on June 17 at the Briar Patch Amphitheater. 

Colby Burhenn, founder of Alleygrass, sings and plays guitar. They play string bluegrass music in a non-traditional arrangement, as they have a tuba player instead of an upright bass.

They also play folk and rock — a type of jam band. 

“Some call it Americana, when people can’t put music that doesn’t fit into a certain category,” said Burhenn.

The rest of the band includes Nate Zantow, banjo; John Zantow, mandola; and John Carmicheal, tuba and bass.

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Burhenn and Zantow played music together in college. They jammed together one night and talked about a friend joining them, but he played a tuba. 

“I thought that sounded like a terrible idea. A tuba wouldn’t work with the acoustic instruments,” he recalls. “Then the tuba showed up… and it works.”

The band plays some cover songs but mostly does original music written by Colby, while the rest of the band helps arrange it. They released their first album, “Out West” in 2022, and a second album is due this summer. The title track Burhenn wrote in college, when many of his friends were moving to Colorado. He says, “It’s about the fear, facing your fears and going to the next stage of life.”

Alleygrass’ influence includes music by Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, Railroad Earth and Billy Strings. Burhenn says bluegrass is gaining popularity in Iowa. 

“It’s always been there for me, but it’s catching on. It’s an up-and-coming music style. I think Billy Strings brings a youthful vibe. For a while it was just the old time traditional bluegrass. It’s an exciting time for bluegrass and the rebirth of it.”

Alleygrass plays numerous gigs in Ames and Ankeny. When the band plays, they like to engage the crowd. 

“We’re laughing and dancing. It’s a party band atmosphere. We have a lighthearted approach to music and the energy feeds into the crowd,” he says.

Burhenn is excited to listen to the other bands as well as performing on the Briar Patch Amphitheater stage for the Bevington Bluegrass Festival. 

“We love playing live. There’s so much energy. We’re addicted to it. We love it and want to play as much as we can.” 

Bevington Bluegrass Festival

The Bevington Bluegrass Festival was started in 2000 by Bob Rice, a musician who owns the Briar Patch Amphitheater and plays in the Deadline Stringband and the Black Dirt Ramblers. Rice wanted to bring bluegrass to the outdoor festival and did for several years until they scaled back. In 2018, the festival made a resurgence.

This year, it features bands with all Iowa roots — either members who got their start in Iowa or band members who are from Iowa. On June 16, the bands include Deadline Stringband at 9 p.m. and Arkansauce at 11 p.m. Saturday’s performance, starting at 5 p.m., includes Black Dirt Ramblers, Alleygrass at 7 p.m.; Danny Spain Gang at 9 p.m., followed by the Baberhood Bluegrass Band at 11 p.m.

The event is family friendly, and the ticket price includes camping. Kids younger than 12 get in free. Dogs are welcome, and it’s BYOB.

The Briar Patch, set on 30 acres and 10 acres of wetlands, celebrates its 23rd anniversary. Participants can hike and camp on the wooded property. 

The Briar Patch typically holds Jerry’s Days, which features the music of Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead. 

Rice says he built the A-framed amphitheater with a great backdrop, into the trees. 

“The sound quality is really good,” he says. “People like to camp so they can join in on the community.”

Rice agrees that bluegrass music is a good variety for all music lovers. 

“It doesn’t blow out your ears, and it lends to music that is more family oriented,” he explains. “There’s something for everyone.”

For tickets or more information, visit https://briarpatchamphitheater.com. ♦

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