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Partygrass: Solidified Sound

Pixie and the Partygrass Boys – hailing from the Wasatch region of Utah – have made great strides since The Bluegrass Standard last caught up with them in 2019. Back then, they were mostly playing locally and in a few adjoining states.

Since then, they’ve been picked up by a record label, Americana Vibes; signed with a management company; and have been touring more extensively across the entire U.S.

Their first release with Americana Vibes dropped in May. It’s called “The Chicken Coop Vol. 1” and includes some guest artists.

“It’s a really fun collection of high-energy covers we’ve been doing throughout the years,” explained Pixie and the Partygrass Boys mandolin player and vocalist Ben Weiss.

For instance, there’s a contribution from Ahn Phung, a flutist for Boston-based string band Twisted Pine. Andy Hall – of the Grammy Award-winning Infamous Stringdusters – guests on a song with his dobro. In a cover of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” Pixie and the boys change the place – where the devil jumped up on a hickory stump – to their home state of Utah. They invited Jeremy Garrett – also of The Stringdusters – to fiddle as if he were a devil of the Wasatch.

Weiss is joined by the namesake of the group and the one he credits with much of the band’s theatrical energy, Katia “Pixie” Racine, who brings lead vocals and ukulele to the mix. Amanda B. Grapes takes care of fiddle and vocals; Zach Downes delivers the upright bass; and Andrew Nelson rounds out the lineup with his guitar and vocals.

While they were mostly originally schooled in jazz – and Pixie, in theater – they’ve brought their backgrounds to bluegrass in a way audiences seem to appreciate and embrace more and more as the years pass.

They regularly gig in the Pacific Northwest; across Utah; and in Montana, Idaho, and Colorado. This summer, they expanded out and toured in the Midwest and Northeast. Just one fall date on their list is a multi-day appearance at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas, happening September 13 through 17.

“But the mountain west has become our home turf, so to speak,” Weiss said.

They’re aiming to soon put out their second record with Americana Vibes.

“We’re gonna do an album of all originals,” Weiss said. He expects it to be “heartfelt and anthemic.”

Each of us is a songwriter. Everybody in the band,” he explained. Generally, one member of the band will bring a basic song they wrote, and then they “arrange them together as a group.”

While he said Pixie penned most of the music for the upcoming record, they’ve all originated stuff, and the real magic happens once the band gets together.

“Everybody has a different creative perspective,” Weiss said. He believes this is what gives the music its unique edge.

He said themes will range from a number Pixie “wrote for her ex-boyfriend, an ode to the love that has survived although the relationship ended” to something political. One song is called “These Chickens Eat Fascists.”

“The song is a little punk rock,” Weiss said, trying to describe its vibe. He said it addresses “the unease among classes and political affiliations.”

Weiss said one thing that has changed since we first talked to him in 2019 is that the band’s sound has become more defined.

“Partygrass has very much solidified into its own sound,” Weiss said, adding that over the years, they’ve thrown all they have as individuals – their unique backgrounds, tastes, methods – into a metaphorical cooking pot.

“Now, we’ve cooked it all down and have a good gumbo.”

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