The Hippo


May 28, 2020








Twisted Pine. Courtesy photo.

Twisted Pine (opening for Sierra Hull)

When: Saturday, July 29, 8 p.m.
Where: 3S Artspace, 319 Vaughan St., Portsmouth
Tickets: $30 at 

Twisted Pine moves from Berklee to bigger stages

By Michael Witthaus

 Jim Olsen has amazing ears; his record label, Signature Sounds, was a first home to Grammy winner Lori McKenna, Josh Ritter, Crooked Still and Lake Street Dive, among others. When he heard Twisted Pine playing at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge, he sensed something special.

Most of the band was still in college, studying in the Berklee American Roots Music program, but “it was clear that they had tremendous instrumental talents and a lot of charisma,” Olsen said. He began watching them, offering guidance.
Olsen’s attention sparked a turning point for Twisted Pine, who were up to that point focused on traditional bluegrass, delivered with breathtaking precision and dexterity. 
“It was about having fun and playing this music that we loved,” mandolin player Dan Bui said in a recent interview.  
Knowing there was interest from a label with Signature’s cachet made them pledge to forge their own sound. This resolve accelerated when banjo player Ricky Mier departed, wanting to stick with traditional music. 
“A creative evolution,” Bui said. “We were left with a four-piece and when that happened it opened up a lot more possibilities for us. ... We had more space to operate and freedom to explore this new original music and and create this new sound.”
Bui discovered the mandolin while watching Sam Bush play bluegrass on an all-star Austin City Limits that also featured Earl Scruggs, Bela Fleck, Vassar Clements and Bryan Sutton. 
“That inspired me to grab my mandolin and dig in deeper,” he said. 
When the Texas native arrived in Boston, he began meeting fellow travelers right away. 
“Hanging out at the Cantab, it became an obsession for all of us,” he said. “That’s kind of what the band was at first — all of us doing our best to learn as much as we could.”
The group’s eponymous debut CD is a breakthrough effort rivaling first albums from Nickel Creek and Crooked Still, a melting pot of influences played by a band that seems to mature with every note. With fiddler Kathleen Parks, bass player Chris Sartori, guitarist Rachel Sumner and Bui, Twisted Pine is a force to be reckoned with. 
“The band has grown in leaps and bounds and are ready to make a big impact on the roots music world,” Olsen said. 
Given their rapid rise, it’s a bit surprising that most of the band managed to complete Berklee degree programs. Quite often, that path leads from college to a lifelong internship — otherwise known as a music career. 
“I did graduate, Kathleen also graduated and Rachel didn’t complete her program but she moved on,” Bui said. Sartori attended UMass-Lowell. “We like to say we’re done with Berklee. Whether that means we graduated or not, we finished.”
One of the best songs on the new record, “21 and Rising,” was actually born in a Berklee classroom. 
“Kathleen wrote that as an assignment,” Bui said. “She collaborated with Lily Lyme and recorded a demo of it ... which she brought to the band. Once we learned it, we evolved and added things, expanded, worked on rhythmic feels. It kind of turns from a standard bluegrass song into more spacey sections in the end.”
Other songs were found in myriad ways. Bui and Sumner locked themselves in a room and traded ideas to come up with “Hold On,” a swinging love song that kicks off the record. 
“That was one of the first songs that became a song for our band, where we went, ‘this is pretty cool and we should keep doing this,’” Bui said.  
“Hog Wild” is one of Bui’s favorites, an instrumental tune written by Parks that came alive in the studio. 
“We played it live a bunch but in the studio we were trying to figure out how we wanted to capture it,” Bui said. “What happened on the record is a very spontaneous performance, and I like it for that reason.”
This process promises more great things. 
“We’re still learning how to write together,” he said. “In that process we are learning from each other [and finding] the best way to get the song across.”

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