Telluride Bluegrass: The War & Treaty, Gospel Truth

Telluride Bluegrass: The War & Treaty, Gospel Truth

The 45th Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival takes place June 21-June 24. The event is completely sold out. But tune in to the live Festival stream at And learn more about other Planet Bluegrass festivals at

The War & Treaty, Michael & Tanya Blount-Trotter, open the closing day of Telluride Bluegrass with the gospel set.

For a preview of what’s in store, please scroll down to listen to their podcast.

Once upon a time a group of monks did the job, their chants echoing off the canyon walls.

In 2016, the slot belonged to Shane Koyczan, a virtuoso of the spoken word, often compared to Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Leonard Cohen because his narratives are that profound and relevant.

In 2017, Abigail Washburn & Friends – Wu Fei of China, Raghu Dixit of India, Iyeoka Okoawa of Japan – gathered on the Main Stage in Telluride’s Town Park for the gospel set. That diverse group of world-class musicians were chosen by Planet Bluegrass as an antidote to the divisive politics that were then (and still are now) polarizing our country.

And this year?

Sunday morning, 10:45 – 11: 45 a.m., belongs to Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Blount-Trotter of “The War & Treaty,” one of the most buzzed-about acts of the Festival, here to continue the healing and spread the love.

“We started hearing about Michael and Tanya from other musicians – Abigail Washburn, for one. By last winter’s Folk Alliance International conference all the buzz from other musicians led to the most packed showcase of the festival. In their harmonies, there’s a profound feeling of love and the healing power of music,” said Brian Eyster of Planet Bluegrass.

Before the two became one, however, before “The War and Treaty,” Michael and Tanya were on two distinctly different paths.

Growing up in a tight-knit community just outside of Washington, D.C., at a young age Tanya’s voice held all the promise of the force it would become: honeyed and bold, guttural, angelic.

After winning a talent show at the tender age of 13, Tanya knew singing would be her future.

Michael, on the other hand, started writing later in life – under very different circumstances and for way different reasons.

Unlike Tanya’s life of relative privilege, Michael spent part of his childhood in Cleveland before moving with his mother, brother, and sister to Washington, D.C., where they spent time in and out of homeless shelters, a limbo land he would experience again as an adult.

Michael was just 19 when his first daughter, Michaela, was born.

“She was the first thing I felt that I’d done right – my little girl,” he says. “I joined the army for her.”

Michael enlisted in the United States Army in 2003, two short years after 9/11.

As a soldier, he felt proud.

Then scared.

But for once, fate was on his side.

In Iraq, Michael was stationed in one of Saddam Hussein’s rubbled palaces where he had access to a piano that had emerged from the mayhem miraculously unscathed. One day a captain heard him sing in his once-in-a-generation volcano of a voice and encouraged the young enlisted man to pursue his music. When that same captain was killed, Michael sat down to write – really write – for the first time.

In the end, Michael was pulled from the front lines and given a new charge: write and perform at memorials for the fallen. That meant whenever a brother or sister in arms died, he would interview his buddies, uncover the story, and pen a song for the tribute, a heavy burden – but at least he was safe.

When Michael returned home, he was booked at a festival that also featured one Tanya Blount.

After his set, Tanya approached and asked Michael if had written his songs. Yes he had. The two exchanged numbers, but Michael, battle-weary, scarred, and daunted by Tanya’s beauty, could not understand why a woman like that would want anything to do with him.

He threw her number away.

It was Tanya who took the initiative – and the two became inseparable. Married now, the powerhouse duo have a six-year-old son.

Their latest release, Healing Tide, follows a breakout year for the Albion, Michigan-based couple, whose debut EP, Down to the River, came out last July.

For the, umm, record, Healing Tide was produced by Buddy Miller and features none other than superstar and Telluride Bluegrass regular Emmylou Harris, who appears on a track entitled “Here Is Where the Loving Is At.” Patty Griffin and Wood Brothers, also Telluride regulars, have cameos on the recording too. As does the King of Telluride, Sam Bush, who plays fiddle for Tanya and Michael. Miller himself plays guitar and banjo.

“The War and Treaty” made headlines after a breakthrough performance at the 2017 Americana Music Festival & Conference, when Tanya and Michael stepped up to fill in for an ill Buddy Miller.

Rolling Stone highlighted the performance in their “AmericanaFest 2017: 20 Best Things We Saw”:

“A late addition to the showcase lineup after Americana mainstay Buddy Miller had to bow out with illness, husband-and-wife duo The War & Treaty did not disappoint. With an introduction by Emmylou Harris and support from Miller’s all-star backing band, Michigan-based Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Blount-Trotter nearly leveled the Cannery Ballroom on Thursday evening. Mixing primitive blues, R&B and gospel-style shouting, War & Treaty’s songs like ‘Hi Ho’ and ‘Down to the River’ were tense and hypnotic, shrouded in darkness, but punching their way to the light. Even the ailing Miller couldn’t be kept away, grabbing his guitar to sit in with the band for one song,” AmericanaFest 2017: 20 Best Things We Saw, Rolling Stone Country.

Additionally, Billboard featured the duo as one of “The 10 Bands You Need to Know About for This Year’s Festival Season” declaring, “…two talents whose chemistry in the live setting is raw, joyous and spectacular. Both Trotter and Blount are propulsive singers, and their band seamlessly blends bluegrass, folk, gospel and soul.”

“With The War and Treaty, we allow people to see two people that are not perfect. We get on stage. We sweat. We’re overweight. We yell. We get ugly, we scream! My hair comes loose. We’re vulnerable––naked in front of people, and it’s a chain reaction. It allows them to be vulnerable, too,” says Tanya.

“The War and Treaty’s” live shows raise hackles.

But more than that, Michael and Tanya’s open, beaming faces and united voices, seem to tear down walls:

“I want people to feel like we care,” Michael says. “When you think about artists, you don’t think about that. But that’s the way I want the world to feel about The War and Treaty.”



Get ready.

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