The sound of California roots

Front Country performs modern bluegrass music in Mountain View

It might not be a surprise that songwriter and vocalist Melody Walker was aptly named by two passionate music-loving parents. Her childhood was filled with the sounds of American bluegrass, bossa nova, classical, classic rock and jazz. This diverse medley of genres influenced her to create her own version of Californian bluegrass music.

In May of 2011, Walker joined musical forces with mandolinist Adam Roszkiewicz, guitarist Jacob Groopman, violinist/fiddler Leif Karlstrom and bassist Jeremy Darrow to form a bluegrass band called Front Country, in San Francisco's Mission District.

"The tale of all of us meeting each other is a little too intertwined to even explain," she recounted. "(We) had just played in different projects with one another in the past and this band came about because one of the people in the band, the fiddle player, had a residency opportunity at the Atlas Cafe in the Mission. So he just got together a random group of people he knew on each instrument and came up with a little group, and it ended up kind of sticking."

Walker described the atmosphere of the Atlas Cafe as being "very chill," with a regular audience of free-wifi aficionados and close friends who would attend their shows. The band was "paid with tips and sandwiches," she said, laughing.

The band went on to play regularly at the bar Amnesia for a Bluegrass Monday set every month for a year, where she described the audience as a crowd of acoustic music lovers and international travelers. This residency gave the band a chance to connect with a greater fan base as they networked with other local bands.

In 2012, Front Country achieved national notoriety after they won the RockyGrass Festival Band Competition, held at Planet Bluegrass Ranch in Colorado. At that point, Walker realized she might be able to turn her passion for music into an actual career.

Following the release of their 2012 EP "This Is Front Country," they won a band competition at Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado. By 2014, the band released their first full-length record, "Sake of the Sound," which describes the band's journey of overcoming challenges and gaining greater confidence as professional musicians. Walker described "Sake of the Sound," the title track of the album, as her favorite song because it features a more progressive pop/rock sound.

Earlier this May, the group released an EP called "Mixtape," which features a surprising blend of cover songs spanning across genres of rock and pop, combined with Front Country's signature twist. Their cover of "Boys of Summer" is reminiscent of Don Henley's original version, with acoustic bluegrass bounce and swing.

"The songs are from all over the place," she said. "We love to do cover songs. We've always been interested in seeing how pop and rock music can stretch the boundaries of what bluegrass instruments can do. I grew up already thinking that bluegrass didn't really have any boundaries. I guess I didn't really know that there were traditionalists out there. I just always thought that you always picked elements from everywhere ... and it's still bluegrass and even if there's a pop or rock influence, there's still something there that is inherently 'rootsy.'"

Walker said that the best part of being a professional musician has been connecting with fans while traveling across the country, "flying down the highway with the landscape changing all around."

Local bluegrass enthusiasts will have a chance to experience Front Country live on Saturday, Nov. 19, when they perform at a Redwood Bluegrass Associates event at the Mountain View Masonic Lodge. Although Front Country has spent the past six months touring the country as they plan a relocation to Nashville, Tenn. (a move that Walker has explained as a choice of location more central to their tour route with a more musician-friendly cost of living), Walker said she's looking forward to returning to the Bay Area where she feels most at home.

"There's this cool energy in the Bay Area of technology, innovation and forward thinking and out=of=the-box thinking, which I think has absolutely influenced our band and the way that we think about bluegrass." she said. "We try to be innovative about it."

At their show, fans can expect energetic, intense arrangements with an eclectic mash-up of original and cover songs by their favorite songwriters. Walker added that most of the band members have sourced their instruments from Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto -- a decision which has made their ties to the Peninsula stronger.

"Absence always makes the heart grow fonder," she said. "Hopefully when we come back ... people will come out and see us and we can have a little Bay Area love fest."

What: Front Country in concert

When: Saturday, Nov. 19, at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Mountain View Masonic Lodge, 890 Church St., Mountain View

Cost: $23 adults/$21 seniors/ $15 students in advance; $25 adults/$25 seniors/$20 students at the door/free for under-13 and music students

Info: Go to RBA.

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