Telluride Bluegrass: FirstGrass Features Mandolin Orange

Telluride Bluegrass: FirstGrass Features Mandolin Orange

The Telluride Bluegrass kicks off with FirstGrass, Wednesday, June 15, 5 – 8 p.m., at Sunset Plaza in the Mountain Village core. Program features acoustic duo Mandolin Orange, followed by International Bluegrass Music Association’s 2014 Entertainers of the Year, Balsam Range. For the main event, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, all four-day passes and Fri/Sat single-day tickets are completely sold-out. Thursday and Sunday single-day tickets, however, are still available at or 800-624-2422. Discounted four-day passes and single-day tickets for San Miguel County residents may still be available at Telluride Music. If you are a local wanting tickets, go here.

Scroll down to the bottom of this story to listen to a podcast with Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz of Mandolin Orange.

Mandolin Orange at FirstGrass in Mountain Village.

Mandolin Orange performs at FirstGrass in Mountain Village, also NightGrass and on Telluride Bluegrass Main Stage

Are they a hybrid of a favorite citrus fruit or the remix of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris?

Or Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings 2.0, with the same achingly honest, goosebumps harmonies that emerge seamlessly from a deep intimacy?

Is their phrasing really like John Prine when he sings a duet with Lucinda Williams?

Comparisons like that abound.

His early life was informed by his mother’s church music. From there, it was a seismic shift to Pearl Jam, Pantera, Slayer, and the world of Metalheads.

That was just before he discovered the Beatles psychedelia in his late teens, your know, Magical Mystery Tour and Strawberry Fields kind of acid trips.

But when Andrew Marlin heard the simply, old-timey sounds of Ricky Skaggs and Tony Rice on guitar and mandolin, fixated on their close-harmony duet style, he was brought him full-circle back to his roots, to old hymns and an undecorated style of playing, simple, but intense and compelling.

She started out life learning to play violin through the Suzuki method. By age 14, however, she eschewed the rigors of the discipline to mess around, loose and free, with bluegrass musicians, who taught her fiddle tunes.

It all came together one night when Emily Frantz met Marlin at a jam and the two started harmonizing.


They continued to meet and work on tunes, harmonizing still, on and off the stage.

And the tough, tender, often surprising Americana sound of Mandolin Orange was born.

Mandolin Orange opens FirstGrass, the kick-off of the 43rd annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival. They are also doing a sold-out show at the Swede-Finn Hall on Thursday, June 16, 11 p.m. as part of NightGrass. The duo are on the Main Stage in Telluride Town Park on Saturday, June 18, 12:15 – 1:30 p.m. Mandolin Orange appears on the FirstGrass program with Balsam Range. The 15th annual Bluegrass Kickoff Party with Yonder Mountain follows, 9 p.m., at the Telluride Conference Center, also in Mountain Village.

Formed in 2009 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina around the talents of singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Marlin and violinist/guitarist Emily Frantz, Mandolin Orange draw from wells old and new, offering up a heady mix of bluegrass, gospel, folk, country, and pop that invokes the earthy timelessness (and effortless harmonies) of Gram and Emmylou, Gillian and Dave; the sweet unpredictability of Chris Thile and Sara Watkins’ early incarnation, Nickel Creek; and the rich, gothic Americana of The Civil Wars.

(Note: Dave Rawlings, Sara Watkins, Chris Thile, and John Prine are all guests of Telluride Bluegrass 2016.)

Now partners in music and life, Marlin and Franz released their self-produced debut, Quiet Little Rooms through CD Baby in 2010. That was followed by the ambitious double album Haste Make/Hard-Hearted Stranger in 2011. Marlin and Frantz linked a deal with Yep Roc for their third long-player, This Side of Jordan, in 2013. Such Jubilee was released in 2015.

NPR described This Side of Jordan as “effortless and beautiful,” naming it one of the year’s best folk/Americana releases. Magnet dubbed it “magnificent,” and American Songwriter said the release was “honest music, shot through with coed harmonies, sweeping fiddle, mandolin, acoustic guitar and the sort of unfakable intimacy that bonds simpatico musicians like Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.”

The record earned Mandolin Orange performances everywhere a young act would want to be: from the iconic Newport Folk Festival to Pickathon, also tours with Willie Watson, Gregory Alan Isakov, The Wood Brothers, and more.


Reviewing Such Jubilee, Rolling Stone had this to say:

“Mandolin Orange is the deceptively straightforward duo of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz, and Such Jubilee sounds like a couple facing each other and singing. That was basically how their fourth album came to be, and it lands in the same general sonic ballpark as Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Warm and inviting, Marlin and Frantz’s harmonies are as soft and familiar as an old comforter. But where the change-ups come in is when you start paying attention to content, starting with the title — seems like Such Jubilee would be gospel. But it turns out that its devotional songs are to you rather than about you. Even when throngs are listening, Marlin and Frantz sound like they’re singing privately, just for themselves. The album is a secret to share, and that’s part of the charm.”

Very soon, Mandolin Orange will become part of the charm and the magic of Telluride Bluegrass.

To learn more, listen to their podcast.

About Balsam Range:


Balsam Range is comprised of five gifted friends who all hail from Western North Carolina. Tim Surrett delivers entertaining MC work as well as seasoned lead and harmony singing. Tim plays bass and he will occasionally share his talents on the resonator guitar. He charms with spontaneity, wit and professionalism. A stellar fiddler, Buddy Melton is also one of the most gifted tenor voices in Bluegrass and Americana today. His range and tone give Balsam Range its identifying sound. With his envied guitar style, Caleb Smith has been called “one of the top young guns of guitar.” He sings with both power and control, delivering a high energy song or a tender ballad with equal vocal skill. Darren Nicholson is a gifted mandolin player and harmony singer with tremendous enthusiasm for American heritage music. That twinkle in Darren’s eye says it all. He is usually up to something! Grammy Award winner, Marc Pruett brings more than 40 years of entertainment experience to the group. He brilliantly complements the ensemble with the intuitive, traditional three finger style that has made him one music’s most admired banjo players.

Elements of jazz, country, gospel, swing and old-time music are all infused into the fresh sound of this unique Southern band. It’s five distinct personalities creating one remarkable musical experience. It’s the award-winning Balsam Range.

(Click on the Balsam Range link in “About” for more.)

And watch this video of the quintet in action:


No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.