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Thursday, Feb. 12 and Saturday, Feb. 14: The Winter Tour of Stringband Mayhem

The Swiss, Rhythm & Rye

The Blackberry Bushes Stringband / press photo

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I lucked out and caught the first car on the Wintergrass Music Festival roller coaster. I had Choices Entertainment Weekly in the greater Tacoma and Olympia area and was flannel deep in grunge and Chihuly. In 1993, I poked my head inside the first annual bluegrass festival at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Tacoma, and it knocked my Docs off. By February 1995, Wintergrass knocked my same Docs off, but held tight and whiled me around jams inside the elevators, hootenannies on stairways, circle sessions in suites - a wall of music from the lobby up to Altezzo Ristorante, out to the Bicentennial Pavilion and even down the street. I'd skip February Hawaiian vacations to hang in the cold and listen to the old.

It's February again, but Wintergrass has pitched camp at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue since 2010. I still pine for the high lonesome sound every February.

I'll be a monkey's uncle if I haven't found a worthy substitute. The Blackberry Bushes Stringband, Wild Rabbit and Renegade Stringband will bring their stringband mayhem to the South Sound this week - part of a larger tour, informally dubbed "The Winter Tour of Stringband Mayhem," which has the three bands visiting eight Northwest cities.

There is a strong roots music scene in the Northwest that spans the whole spectrum from traditionalists to those using traditional elements in more modern pop or rock influences. The Blackberry Bushes (Seattle), Wild Rabbit (Bellingham) and Renegade Stringband (Portland) span that spectrum. The Blackberry Bushes perform mostly original material, but they'll keep a thread of bluegrass and old-time going through their show. Wild Rabbit is a little more pop. Renegade is a little more traditional.

"All three bands can get a room dancing and stomping and then drop them to silence for a minute with their hearts open," says Jes Raymond, lead singer and guitar player for The Blackberry Bushes Stringband. "I wanted to tour with these two bands because I knew that the combination would make a killer show."

THE WINTER TOUR OF STRINGBAND MAYHEM, 9 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 12, The Swiss Restaurant and Pub, 1904 Jefferson Ave., Tacoma, 253.572.2821

THE WINTER TOUR OF STRINGBAND MAYHEM, 9 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 14, Rhythm & Rye, 311 Capitol Way, Olympia, $6-$8, 360.972.2278

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