In today’s popular music, the “biggest” acts are usually more “plugged in.” With mass appeal genres such as pop and hip-hop, electronic music is the thing du jour. Songwriting is often done by a “team” of many, instead by one or two genuine writers who live and breathe the music.
That’s all just fine for Top 40 pop but not so fine for young people who appreciate the nuance of traditional forms, acoustic instruments, and the old-fashioned and heartfelt ways of composing and performing live music.
As a younger group, Broken Compass Bluegrass has an answer to the questions associated with selecting bluegrass as their genre of choice. While bluegrass has grown to encompass more diversity – namely, the “progressive” side of the genre – more and more younger people are showing interest in presenting the tried-and-true to listeners.
Broken Compass Bluegrass multi-instrumentalist Kyle Ledson has been making music since he was three years old; although he is still a pretty young guy, his performance career is already long. He can speak to the growing trend toward more stripped-down and organic roots music styles.
“Our fans so far tend to be from the older generations,” Ledson explained. “We see a big pool of these familiar faces at our shows, and we’re growing amazing relationships with them. When attending bluegrass festivals, however, we see fans of all ages. And we were once those youngsters ourselves, running around with half-sized fiddles in our hands. We are starting to see peers our age attending our gigs, which is really rewarding. We’d really love to reach the ears of our age group.”
In the end, he said, it’s not about who they are playing to but that there are people of any type who enjoy listening as much as the band enjoys playing.
“Ultimately, we’re grateful to have fans of any age at our shows. We want to play for fans that love our art, and age is not a factor," he said, adding, "I do believe there is a resurgence of bluegrass – or jamgrass, if you will – with the fierce rise in popularity of bands like Billy Strings where again, all ages are welcomed.
It sounds like Ledson and the band will be busy this fall.
“Our cups are overflowing with music, and it’s a great thing,” he explained. “Our vinyl production of ‘Fool’s Gold,’ our debut album, is expected to be complete in late August, which is very exciting. We also should have our first live album completed by then…fingers crossed.”
He said they have already started work on a second studio album and are looking forward to three big events happening in August and September: The Big BLUEgrass festival in Tahoma, Calif.; Camp Deep End in Navarro, Calif.; and the IBMA in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“In between all that, our weekends are filled with local gigs,” he said.
The band began as a trio formed during the pandemic shutdown, consisting of Ledson and multi-instrumentalists Django Ruckrich and Mei Lin Heirendt. The three musicians all grew up attending the California Bluegrass Association’s Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival, participating in their Kids on Bluegrass program.
“From that, Django and I did some duo work when we were younger. School and sports parted our ways until the pandemic brought us back together for a virtual set online for the CBA,” Ledson explained. “I had been playing solo for a while, building local connections with venues, promoters, and touring bands, so we originally called ourselves Kyle Ledson & Friends. We had a lot of fun together and quickly realized we shared this similar passion, so we decided to book a few gigs.”
Ledson said it didn’t take long to realize they were “onto something” good…they decided to change the band’s name to Broken Compass Bluegrass and bring on a fourth member, bass player Sam Jacobs.
“We were lucky to find Sam, who was attending Chico State’s Recording Arts program with me,” Ledson said.
Ledson said where his family lives – and how they live – contributed to his interest in more traditional styles of music. He and his bandmates all hail from the Grass Valley/Nevada City area in California.
“I grew up just outside the area in a town called Camptonville,” he explained. “We lived off the grid, as my family has been building a log cabin on our property. Growing up off-grid on rural property completely drove my musical development. I didn’t have TV or video games distracting me. Instead, I put all that time into my strings, and it really paid off. We also had the time to attend lots of music festivals, which drove the inspiration.”
Looking back, Ledson said, "I’m grateful for all that and wouldn’t change a thing if I could.