Listen to the Grammy-winning folk sounds of Sarah Jarosz in Breckenridge
Riverwalk Center concert is 1st stop in new tour
Sarah Jarosz has a catfish restaurant to partly thank for her career. A daughter of two teachers, the singer-songwriter grew up in Wimberley, Texas, outside of Austin. Her parents discovered a weekly bluegrass jam at the restaurant, and they got her a mandolin for Christmas so Jarosz could join in. Two decades later, the 30-year-old multi-instrumentalist has six studio albums and four Grammy Awards.
Jarosz said she came into the world singing and would duet with her guitar-playing mother at home. She picked up the piano first, but it was the mandolin that stood out to her in records. The small instrument was ideal for the 9-year-old, and there was then a natural progression to the guitar, banjo, octave mandolin and other instruments as she got older and explored songwriting.
“The octave mandolin proved to be this perfect marriage between a lower range of a guitar but still being able to play it like a mandolin,” Jarosz said. “It felt like this cool middle zone for writing my own songs.”
She paid her dues around Austin and her parents were able to take music festivals over the summer when they weren’t teaching pre-K or economics. Music was the clear path for Jarosz, and the steady growth was sustainable as her parents kept in school so she didn’t burn out on tour.
“In retrospect, I’m really glad that I did that because, in a way, I think that’s maybe the reason why I’m still doing it today,” Jarosz said. “I didn’t just go out and road-dog it when I was 17.”
Jarosz had been going to RockyGrass in Lyons since she was 11 years old, and the educational component of it and other festivals exposed her to lessons from performers like Chris Thile — of Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers and “Live from Here” — as well as Dobro player Jerry Douglas and bluegrass legend Béla Fleck. She grew up listening to multiple genres and was obsessed with bands like Wilco and The Decemberists in high school, but it was Thile’s mandolin playing that showed Jarosz that there was space for younger artists like herself in the bluegrass scene.
Jarosz then found herself going from fan to star. Her debut album “Song Up in Her Head” released in June 2009 with guests like Thile and Douglas, and that was succeeded by “Follow Me Down” in 2011 with Fleck, Dan Tyminski, Vince Gill and more.
Jarosz said the best part of the backstage, festival jam sessions that led to the studio collaborations was how the other musicians didn’t treat her like a kid.
What: Sarah Jarosz with Taylor Ashton
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 19. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Where: Riverwalk Center, 150 W. Adams Ave., Breckenridge
Cost: Tickets range from $35 to $45. Visit BreckMusic.org to purchase
“It was incredible as a kid who was just getting into all of that music to have that opportunity to actually learn directly from those people and hang out with them,” Jarosz said. “… Those first two records, I feel like it was just a lot of including my heroes who had basically helped me get to that point.”
Later albums have become less heavy with guests, allowing Jarosz to focus honing her own sound. She wasn’t interested in joining or forming a band, but she eventually felt ready and did end up creating the band I’m With Her alongside Sara Watkins and Aoife O’Donovan in 2014 after the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Jarosz describes the band as a creative outlet that supplements — rather than replaces — their individual works.
Jarosz knew Watkins from Nickel Creek, and O’Donovan taught at one of the camps she attended when she was 15. She thinks of O’Donovan as an older sister and was glad to share the touring and writing experience as a team.
The group played in Breckenridge in 2018 and won a Grammy for “Call My Name” in 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic has put it on pause. Jarosz said they’re each busy playing catch-up with their own records, like her 2020 album “World on the Ground” and 2021’s “Blue Heron Suite.”
During the pandemic, Jarosz moved from New York to Nashville and did a handful of livestreams, a cover series and other video content with her now-fiance. She used the downtime to explore her foodie side by making sourdough and cocktails along with spending time outside in her yard. Her first in-person performance was last June in South Carolina, and she’s glad to be on the road again with other musicians.
Joining her in Breckenridge — the start of the tour — is Mike Robinson on guitar, Dave Speranza on bass and John Fatum on drums. Jarosz put the group together right before the shutdown and said he’s stoked to be back in the High Country since the tour is a long time coming.
Opening for her is Taylor Ashton, who did the original album art for “Blue Heron Suite,” as well.
“I’ve been going to Colorado every summer since I was a kid,” Jarosz said. “It’s just always been a really important place for me and my life, especially my life in music. I’m excited to be kicking off the tour there.”
Though “Blue Heron Suite” is her newest by release date, it was written in 2017 and recorded in 2018. It was commissioned for the FreshGrass Festival and focuses on Port Aransas, Texas, her family and great blue herons. Jarosz’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, and the Texas city was hit by Hurricane Harvey that same year, so the song cycle became a healing process as she wrote about walking down the beach with her mom and watching wildlife together. The herons transformed into a symbol of hope, and her mother is still in remission.
Since the release, Jarosz has discovered others who have a connection with the herons, and she’s touched that her personal story has become more universal. And though it wasn’t planned to be delayed, in retrospect she’s glad the album released during the pandemic to let it speak to an incident the public has collectively been through.
“Blue Heron Suite” is nominated for Best Folk Album at the Grammy’s. Jarosz won’t be able to attend the Las Vegas ceremony in April because of the tour, but she said she’s just happy to be nominated.
“I’m just really thrilled that it’s even up for nomination,” Jarosz said. “Especially this ‘Blue Heron’ album, being so personal and meaning so much to me and my family that I was really surprised that it was nominated, so I’m so really happy about that.”
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