Telluride Bluegrass Festival: Rosco Bandana Featured At FirstGrass

Rosco Bandana

Rosco Bandana

The Devil is clearly in the details.

Jason Sanford is chief songwriter and vocalist for the Mississippi folk-rock septet Rosco Bandana. As a boy, he was taught that rock ‘n roll was the Devil’s music. When his group came together, he was acting in open and active defiance to his strict Christian upbringing.

It all began 2003, when Jason was 18. He wandered into a tobacco store in a Gulfport mall to buy smokes and struck up a conversation with the kid behind the counter.

“He was like this real cool, hip, indie sorta character,” Jason explains, “and he ended up turning me on to people like Elliott Smith, Bright Eyes, Iron and Wine, Neutral Milk Hotel. That’s kind of how it all started.”

Jason Sanford and Rosco Bandana are coming to town at the recommendation of Mumford & Sons. Described by Brian Eyster of Planet’s Bluegrass as a “fun roots band,” the groups is scheduled to open FirstGrass in Mountain Village, a FREE concert in Sunset Plaza, Wednesday, June 19, 4 – 8 p.m. They are also playing a free concert in Elks Park, all for the 40th annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

Following the meeting in the tobacco store, Jason would stay up late at night, teaching himself how to play the guitar his father had given him. Just a few months earlier, Sanford’s relationship with Emily Sholes had come to an end, and the heartbreak of that separation powered most of his early songs. At the same time, a childhood friend, Barry Pribyl Jr., had just moved back to Mississippi from Michigan, and his mother suggested he get in touch with his old friend.

“At the time, I was into metal,” Barry says. “So I went to this open mic night, and Jason was playing this honky-tonk stuff. I remember thinking, ‘What the hell is this?'”

When Jason and Barry started playing together, a more specific sound started to emerge, one that blended a ragged bar-rock attitude of bands such as Uncle Tupelo with a few mild nods toward the iconoclastic end of contemporary country, like Jamey Johnson. With its core in place, Jason and Barry soon began looking to expand their lineup.

They cast their net wide, starting with an open mic night at a wine bar and then inviting a group of people with chops to an abandoned house to jam. One of the recruits was Jason’s old flame Emily; another was Jennifer Flint, whose fiery vocals serve as a  counterbalance to Sanford’s cool croon.

The meetings that generated the band were kismet. What comes next is a Cinderella story, with the happily-ever-aftering still a work-in-progress.

The nascent band enrolled in a Battle of the Bands contest sponsored by Hard Rock and against odds – thousands of band enter from all over the world – won handily. The prize: a performance at the 2011 Hard Rock Calling Festival in London’s Hyde Park.

Next up: Hard Rock Cafe picked Rosco Bandana to become the first act on its new record label and flew the group to to Los Angeles to work on their debut with acclaimed producer Greg Collins (U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, No Doubt). Time to Begin was released in September 2012.

Today, the (lucky) seven members of Rosco Bandana – Jason on vocals and guitar; Emily on vocals and keyboard; Jenny Flint on vocals and percussion; Josh Smith on bass; Jackson Weldon on mandolin and lap steel; Barry on percussion and vocals; and Patrick Mooney on guitar and banjo – all write songs. There are three lead singers and a drummer who can sing a fourth harmony. Jenny once described what happens on stage as a “Crosby, Still, & Nash thing.”

To learn more, click the “play” button and listen to my chat with Jason Sanford.

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