GRASS VALLEY, CA, May 4, 2023 – The Center for the Arts is pleased to present Mighty Poplar, a new all-star roots project, in the Marisa Funk Theater on May 21, 2023.

All-star roots collaboration Mighty Poplar to perform at The Center for the Arts

At its heart, bluegrass music is about what happens when you commit to the moment, and the joy of improvisation keeps the music fresh and the musicians on their toes, crafting ideas on the fly. This true spirit of bluegrass infuses the self-titled record from Mighty Poplar, a new all-star roots project on Free Dirt Records, featuring Andrew Marlin of Watchhouse, Noam Pikelny and Chris Eldridge of Punch Brothers, bassist Greg Garrison (Leftover Salmon) and fiddler Alex Hargreaves (Billy Strings). 

Regarded as some of the finest players of their generation, the playing is never showy and always in service of the song. Though Pikelny, Eldridge, Garrison all knew each other from their early work with Punch Brothers, impromptu backstage jams with Marlin at festivals across the country were the key that unlocked the project. Throughout the album, the songs and tunes are as immediate and emotionally impactful as the playing is tasteful. Gathered knee-to-knee in a rural studio outside Nashville, the collaborative 10-track album emerged organically over a few days. “It felt so special and effortless; it didn’t take work,” says Eldridge, “other than the work and effort we’ve put in the rest of our lives.” With their debut album, Mighty Poplar has captured the fierce and playful energy of an all-night jam between old friends who just happen to be grandmasters of the music.

Speaking to the band, it’s clear that each player joined out of pure excitement to play music with each other. “I’m convinced Alex Hargreaves only knows how to play the perfect notes at the perfect times,” muses Eldridge. Pikelny speaks highly about Marlin’s innate musicality: “We listen to a lot of Watchhouse at our house. Supporting a singer and songwriter of Andrew’s caliber is about the most rewarding thing I get to do, so I leapt at the opportunity to collaborate when Greg first pitched the idea for this project.” Marlin talks up the other players’ instrumental virtuosity. “When I think about it from a player’s perspective, I didn’t feel like I belonged in this group; I haven’t spent my life trying to improve my chops. I’ve been more of a song gatherer,” a humble Marlin admits. That last point is key here, as it focused the approach to the new album on an appreciation for the roots of bluegrass and for the songs especially. 

Inspired by the 1980s albums of The Bluegrass Album Band, which united some of that era’s best bluegrass players, Mighty Poplar sought to emulate the fun and spontaneity of those inspirational recordings. “My love for the sound and feel of those Bluegrass Album Band records–the energy, the undeniable chemistry, the subtle virtuosity–led me to imagine what that might look like in our collective gumbo of today’s bluegrass,” says Garrison. “We grew up on those records,” Eldridge continues. “We loved the idea of musicians banding together for a special project where you explore your common influences.” But don’t mistake Mighty Poplar for a tribute record; the band aimed to find their own arrangements and deliver fresh takes on the songs. In Eldridge’s words: “It’s an homage to where we came from, without it being a recreation of an earlier era.”

The songs and tunes on Mighty Poplar run through the history of bluegrass from the earliest Appalachian string bands (“Grey Eagle”) to the more recent, “Up on the Divide,” from Montana bard Martha Scanlan and a reworking of Uncle Dave Macon’s “Lovin’ Babe” by songwriter Kristin Andreassen. “Each song feels like it was written from a very personal place,” Marlin says. “‘North Country Blues’ – you feel that from Dylan. You’re there outside the mill with him reminiscing about the glory days of the steel industry.” One of the most surprising tracks on the album is Marlin’s eloquent and careful reimagination of Leonard Cohen’s “Story of Isaac.”  “Cohen’s version was so heavy,” says Marlin. “The first time I ever heard him sing that tune I felt like I’d just survived falling down a hill. For our version, I tried to take this really serious heavy subject and put it to some not-quite-as-heavy music.” Marlin jokes that’s the spirit of bluegrass. “You take sad songs and make them sound a little happier, and you’ve got yourself a Stanley Brothers album all of a sudden.”  

Fueling the interplay between each artist, these improvisational adventures built a structure for new interpretations of the songs. “You’re constantly in dialogue with the moment,” Eldridge says. As Marlin explains, “I’ve never played in a bluegrass setting where the groove was so undeniable. The songs just unfolded because the playing wasn’t something to think about.”

There’s a level of curiosity and engagement that’s only found at the highest echelons of music-making. What sets Mighty Poplar apart from the members’ full-time endeavors with Punch Brothers, Watchhouse, Billy Strings, and Leftover Salmon is that this band “is a chance to play real deal bluegrass”, says Eldridge. Don’t miss Mighty Poplar performing their “real deal” bluegrass at The Center for the Arts on May 21, 2023. 

WHAT: Mighty Poplar

WHERE: The Center for the Arts | 314 West Main Street, Grass Valley, CA 95945

WHEN: Sunday, May 21, 2023 | Doors 6:30 pm, Show 7:30 pm

TICKETS: $45 (member discounts available) |

WEBSITE & INFO: or (530) 274-8384

Since 2000, The Center for the Arts, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit arts organization, has grown into a leading presenter of music, dance, theater, comedy, literary and visual art, and family programming, offering more than 150 events per year from its location in downtown Grass Valley. The Center recently completed a major renovation of its multiuse, 21,000-square-foot facility in downtown Grass Valley, making it a premier performing arts destination. The venue includes the Main Stage, which accommodates up to 492 guests in configurable theater seats and up to 700 patrons for dance shows, and a 90-seat studio theater.