[Interview] Jon Stickley Trio Discusses Recent Changes & Favorite Show Moments

Jon Stickley Trio

Photo Credit: HHphotography

Once again, Suwannee Spring Reunion 2018 blessed attendees with a talented and diverse lineup.  Featured not once, but three times on this year’s schedule, was Asheville-based Jon Stickley Trio.  The audience’s beaming smiles and dancing feet proved this trio’s recent lineup changes has left them stronger than ever before.  Between their energy, unique style, and extraordinary talent, I walked away a fan for life, hungry to catch them live as much as possible.

Jon Stickley Trio has a vigorous Spring schedule, but graciously sat down with me for a few moments, where we talked about everything from podcasts to their favorite moments on the road.  Read the full interview below:

Jon Stickley Trio seems to be on the road touring tirelessly as of late. What are some things you like to do in your off time when you’re not on the road?

I try not to do a whole lot. I pretty much go totally domestic. My wife’s a kindergarten teacher, so I do the grocery shopping, I clean the house, and then at night, we watch Netflix and fall asleep.

On the subject of touring, how can you describe a typical day on tour for you guys besides practice and rehearsal?

Yea, now that I talked about the domestic side of things. There’s a real zen to road life where, because you’re busy doing the road, you can’t really stress about too much else in life. You’re going from place to place. Basically, we sleep as late as we can. Go somewhere to get some coffee and usually some healthy kind of breakfast food. Drive. Listen to podcasts. Arrive and soundcheck. Try to find the best Thai food place. Play the show. Hang out. Go to the crash spot, and start that all over again the next day. That’s a typical day.

What kind of podcasts do you guys listen to?

We listen to a lot of different stuff but, I’m really into all that true crime that’s the rage right now. So I’ve gone through all the true crime podcasts. We also listen to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. The whole band was just listening to World War One. Which is like five-part series. Each episode is like three hours long. It takes up a lot of time.

I have never listened to a podcast before, but I’ve heard about some really interesting ones over the last few days. I guess I’m going to have to jump on that train.

For our lifestyle, podcasts work really well, because the van rides are really long. I wasn’t into them until. Well, you’ve heard of Serial, right? I think that it really kickstarted podcasts for a lot of people. And yea, music entertains me, because I listen to every little detail. But man, getting into these podcasts – you just want to keep going. Next thing you know, you’ve listened to ten hours of podcasts and you’re halfway across the country.

You guys recently played quite a few shows on the West coast. How would you describe the fan base there, compared to the East coast?

I would say that it’s kind of what you might expect, as far as the West coast being maybe a little more open-minded, accepting, and enthusiastic. The crowd is a little more cool and chill. Whereas, back East, you have to work really hard to impress people. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s oversaturation. A lot of music comes from the East coast. But, maybe it’s because the West is more spread out, so artists don’t come through as much. You don’t hear as much of the same old music all the time. And you’ve got the whole legal weed thing too.

Yea, I recently went to a festival hosted by West coast artists. I was blown away by the people I met, how much they get into their music, and how far they’re willing to travel to support the artists they love.

People are dedicated out there. It’s almost like a religion in a way. You know, post-Grateful Dead, there was such a powerful, strong movement that I think that energy is kind of carrying on through Phish and others in the jam band scene. It’s more of a lifestyle, than a one time thing. And it’s a community. These people will travel and meet up all over the country. It’s really a beautiful thing.

What was your favorite moment, as a band, in your recent travels?

There’s a lot but, a really cool moment that happened last year: We played at a festival out in Tahoe called WinterWonderGrass. We’re actually heading back there in a couple weeks. But we did a set on top of the highest point of the ski mountain. They put a little stage up there. We all went up on ski lifts. They hauled our equipment up in a snowmobile. The only people that could hear the set had to ski in. It was a bunch of snowboarders. We played this set on the top of a mountain and it was just the most beautiful day. The clouds were rolling in. You could see the lake. It was one of those surreal moments. I felt like I was standing on the moon or something. To be playing music in that setting – it was crazy.

Jon Stickley Trio

Photo Credit: Phishbone Photography

The band has recently experienced a lineup change. Yet you have hardly stopped going since the changes were implemented. How did these changes affect the dynamic of the band?

So, we did the switch over the period of a couple weeks in January. And, things just kind of lined up. Basically, I was like “Ok, we’ve got two weeks till our first show.” So, we did four rehearsals in Knoxville, where Hunter is from, and then two in Asheville. And we just pounded it out.

We went and did our first show and it was great. I was pretty nervous because we’d been doing the same lineup for the past five years. We had a lot of stability. It was totally dependable; I knew what was going to happen onstage. So, going into that first show was pretty intense. But, you know, we’d been searching for some change and we really thought he was the guy that was gonna bring this kind of fresh energy that we had been craving. So, when we realized that, yea, that is happening, it felt really good. We knew we did the right thing – the music was just gonna blossom. And it totally has.

I know it sounds cliche, but some things are just meant to be, you know?

Yea, you know, change is hard. It’s crazy and it’s different. It’s scary and uncomfortable. But, so many times, you take the plunge and you realize “Oh, man, I can’t believe I even hesitated.”

You guys have always been known for your diversity and the unique style you bring to the bluegrass community. Your new drummer, Hunter Deacon, adds another layer of diversity, with his unique background. Drummers aren’t traditionally a staple of bluegrass music; what elements does he bring to the table that inspires the two of you to further grow and diversify yourselves as musicians?

Man, what a great question. You know, they may not be typical in the genre, but the cool thing about it for us is that we’re a trio and drums can cover a lot of the rhythmic things that happen in, maybe, a five piece bluegrass band. You have all these moving parts. You’ve got an upright bass keeping the on beat, the mandolin covering the off beat, and then the banjo covering the rolling. You can kind of cover all that rhythmically with the kicks and air hat. So you kind of get the same feel as when you’re playing all acoustic bluegrass. But then, he’s got some serious jazz chops, as well as rock and stuff. But, one thing we really liked about him was that he can really improvise. He’s super creative and really sensitive to what we’re doing. So, he can kind of read our minds, in a way, as far as where the music’s wanting to go. It’s just a really collaborative, true improvisational kind of vibe.

Your last album was released in May of 2017, prior to the addition of Hunter. What is the plan for releasing more recordings?

Well, I don’t really know myself. One thing we would really like to do is a live album. We’ve done three full lengths and an EP. So, a live one would be great, because I think our live show is really unique and we play different from what’s on the albums. But yea, we should probably get in in the wintertime and try to make a new album or something like that. I’m working hard on new material. And I’m stoked about putting it together with Hunter.

How would you describe the style you’ve curated? Is it the vision you pictured from the beginning?

No, I would say from the beginning…I can’t say that I had a specific vision. But, one thing I always wanted to do was just make good music, play with good people, and basically let everyone’s musical personality kind of shine through and kind of go in a mutually agreed upon, collaborative direction. So, through that process of playing music together and putting songs together, it’s kind of led us to where we are now. So, it’s very dependent upon who’s in the band. It’s super personal. But, I would say, as far as calling it something, it’s really hard to put a label on it. We’ve said everything from “electro-harmonic jazz grass” to “extremely progressive bluegrass” to “progress.” So, we have some fun messing around with the names.

Lyndsay, being from Jacksonville, I’m familiar with your family and its history in the music community. How do you think your background prepared you for what you are doing now?

Lyndsay: Man, it prepared me a lot. Growing up, going to the Suwannee festivals. Even before that, my dad is sort of a “new grass” musician, so all the music that I was exposed to as a kid, and then really got exposed to once I started going to Suwannee festivals. Like Tony Rice and Bela Flek, those type of people. That’s all such a huge part of what we do now. That, combined with playing lots of classical music in high school and having a really good school to go to like Douglas Anderson. Majoring in music in high school.

It seems like so many educators today have lost sight of the value of arts in our schools, so it’s so wonderful that our community supports this still.

Lyndsay: Yea, and there’s the elementary and middle school too. I did the whole program, from 5th grade on. All school of the arts; I played violin in school every single day. I was just naturally really into it, so that really helped. As a trio, I get to really use my classical background a lot, as well as the fiddling and that’s part of what I really like about it.   

Hunter, what was it about the Jon Stickley Trio that stood out and made you want to join?

Hunter: Well, the music is not anything I had really ever heard before. It’s very different from the kind of stuff that I normally play and it’s very challenging. It covers a lot of territory. Once I got into it, I realized it kind of scratched a lot of itches. I could play all kinds of different styles and have a lot of freedom to do a lot within the music.

You each bring so much unique talent and background to the table. Does one person do all of the composing and arrangement or do they just happen organically as a group?

I technically write most of the songs but, they start out in a really simple form. And then we take that simple form and kind of recompose them as a group. Then we go out and play and the songs keep developing with every performance. So, songs really change a lot over the course of tour and over the years. It’s a completely different song than what it started out as.

When you guys are out on stage, do you kind of stick to the plan or do you jam out?

Yea, I would say that we have a plan and we pretty much stick to it. But the plan includes a lot of moments for improv and a lot of freedom and space for us to kind of stretch out a little bit as artists.

I imagine that keeps things fresh and fun for you as artists.

Yea, it’s been one of our main things since the beginning, was a really improvisational approach because we’re not here to recite something we memorized. We’re here to make music in front of you, so you can watch it happen. And also, we’re kind of entertaining ourselves as well.

Does the crowd have something to do with leading you in a certain direction?

Totally. The crowd brings out a lot. And a crowd can also stifle you. Or if it’s just a weird turnout or if there’s not quite enough people there to feel right, you know, it’s a big part of the show.

If you didn’t go down the musical path, what do you see yourself doing?

Yea, I actually have a college degree in Parks and Recreation. And I interned as a Park Ranger in Alaska. That’s kind of where I was heading before joining my first full-time band right out of college.

For someone who hasn’t heard you play before, what are the songs that you feel really represent the band?

I would say probably “Darth Radar.” That might be one of our weirdest, craziest songs. And then, on the other side of things, “Jewels,” which is the first track of our latest release. It’s kind of super mellow. And then, “The High Road” and “Jerusalem Ridge” are two kind of classic fiddle tunes that we have kind of put our own spin on.

Thank you all for sharing your experiences with us. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we go?

Just that we are always so excited to get back to Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park and the Spring Reunion Festival. Just thrilled to be a part of it. We take any chance we can to get down there, as much as possible.

It’s a pretty special place, isn’t it?

It’s so amazing. It’s our favorite festival grounds. And you know, we’ve been to a lot. It’s definitely at the top of the list.

Jon Stickley Trio is headed out West next, with a show on April 4th at The State Room in Salt Lake City, UT.  If you haven’t caught them yet, catch them the first chance you get. If you HAVE seen them…well, you already know they are not to be missed!

Our full review and photos of the weekend can be viewed here

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