As winner of the 2022 Telluride Bluegrass Competition – AND winner of the IBMA 2022 Momentum Band of the Year Award – up-and-coming bluegrass group Full Cord has clearly showcased their talent in a way that has wowed crowds.
Even folk superstar Billy Strings recognizes the solid menu of traditional offerings Full Cord brings to the table. Having someone like this as part of the band's support network undoubtedly helped put Full Cord in front of listening audiences.
"Billy has been a friend of ours for quite a while," explained Full Cord bass player Todd Kirchner. "I met Billy when he first moved up to Traverse City, Michigan. I think he was around 17 back then. My folks live up there, and my dad was playing banjo with us at the time. Not long after Billy moved up there, he and my dad started a band, Kirchner recalled. Needless to say, we all became fast friends. When we released our previous album, Hindsight, I asked him if he'd write a few words for the liner notes. It really meant a lot. He even covered one of our tunes at one of his shows in Atlanta."
According to Kirchner, something almost magical happened when these musicians jammed. He could just tell that something good was afoot.
“We've kind of known that we had something special when we first started playing music together,” he said. “Everything just clicked, and we kept thinking...man, other people need to hear this!”
Much like Billy Strings, the band tries to bring the genre forward. There’s perhaps a loosening of some of the "strictness" that still exists in some bluegrass quarters. Full Cord is part of the movement with a clear objective: Sustaining a musical form that deserves to be promulgated instead of letting it be lost in the shuffle of forward progress. Full Cord wants bluegrass to stick around and thrive.
“We're a little different in that we really try to take a fresh approach to the music and try to find a way to bridge the gap between traditional bluegrass and the more progressive stuff,” Kirchner explained. “We really love the music and have thought for a long time that if we aren't trying to bridge that gap, we may lose the genre.”
Kirchner’s brief summary statement of what Full Cord is about further shows the band’s idea of how they want to be seen: “I often say that we're a bit progressive, but solidly grounded in traditional bluegrass. The comment I hear most often, though, is that it's refreshing to the ear.”
Joining Kirchner with his bass are bandmates Eric Langejans (guitar), Brian Oberlin (mandolin), and Grant Flick (fiddle).
Kirchner said the band is just now hitting its stride; they're making new music and touring across the U.S.
"We've all got bucket list venues we want to try to play," Kirchner said, of where they'd love to see themselves in coming years as Full Cord further inhabits its place in the bluegrass world. "Hopefully, by then, we will have performed at the Ryman, the Opry and be back at Telluride a time or two."
Last year came the band's latest recording. Dropping a record during a year of incredible accolades is always a good time, and it has been satisfying for Full Cord. The record is called Cambium. Although they had several records already under their belt, this 12-track release was their first on the Dark Shadow label.
“It was recorded at the Dark Shadow Recording Studio in Nashville,” Kirchner explained. “We try to get our inspiration for our music from real life experiences. Brian Oberlin wrote quite a few songs on the album. Eric Langejans and Ricky Mier contributed as well. We also leaned on some of our musician friends and included some of our favorite tunes from them as well.”
He said Stephen Mougin from the Sam Bush Band served as producer and "really helped us pull together what turned out to be a great album."
While he said all the recent notable success and accolades for Full Cord has been "a bit overwhelming," Kirchner is excited about the new opportunities that have come along with so much attention. From all indications, Kirchner thinks it's not just the core band that led to this success, but it included many contributions.
“We all feel extremely lucky to be connected with such great folks in the bluegrass scene,” Kirchner assured.