Jon Stickley Interview

John Stickely

One of the first opportunities to experience festival life comes April 26 and 27 up in Baltimore at Charm City Bluegrass Festival.  The Jon Stickley Trio ​is sharing the lineup with a​ whole host of other great artists as well.  Just a few short days after opening for The Infamous Stringdusters at their album release party at the 9:30 Club, ​Jon Stickley himself was nice enough to talk with us briefly ​after touching down in Vegas for The Bender Jamboree ​last weekend.  Check out the interview with DC Music Review's Karin McLaughlin below and keep an eye out for interviews with more bands that will be at the event next weekend in the next few days!

​KM: ​You guys have quite a unique group dynamic, especially ​with a relatively new drummer in the scheme of things, I guess. ​ It seems like each of you are so musically unique and talented in a very different way from each other. How do you guys ​make ​those talents merge so well and your group dynamic work so well together?

JS: That's a good question.  Basically​ we've come to realize that over the course of time, our differences kind of have become one of our strengths, you know​?  Since we started the band, I was always ​intent on letting everyone really express their own musical personality ​to add to the music.  It makes the music more interesting, in my opinion. ​ ​We all kind of lead into each other a little bit and have accepted things that​ maybe didn't fit our own ear.  Slowly, over time it's ​gelled really well, but ​everyone's maintained an individual personality.

​KM: So, I actually just caught you guys opening for (The Infamous) ​Stringdusters on Friday at 9:30 Club, which was your first appearance at 9:30, right? ​How was that?  I mean, from my from my point of view, it was great, but how was it being on stage playing?

JS: That's good to know that it was great from your point of view (laughs).  We absolutely loved everything about it! It was so professional from top to bottom.  The sound was incredible. Hospitality was amazing and the vibe there was just one of the best clubs we've ever played​ by far, obviously.  It was an honor and really felt like a real rite of passage.

KM: The encore, when you guys came back out with the Dusters and played "One Love" (by Bob Marley) was really something else.

JS: Oh, man, the ​sing along?!  Yeah!  We just did four nights with them and that was definitely the best night!

Jon Stickley
Jon Stickley

KM: Touching back on the diversity of the music that you guys ​have been influenced by and play - I know that you personally have said you're a fan of EDM and hip hop, but you guys ​all have these really different elements and influences. ​It's hard to categorize the band in one existing genre. ​ Let's wipe out everything you've been 'named' and you guys get to come up with your own genre, what would you call it?  

JS: (laughs) Okay, there's a few different answers to that.​  I would say progressive bluegrass is one that ​we use for very practical reasons.  You know, we're pickers, it's instrumental​, we got a guitar, but we're doing some different.  Bluegrass is bluegrass, it's not super specific so we could use it for a lot.  Sometimes we say extremely progressive.   The one that maybe is a little more accurate, but not as marketable ​is ectro harmonic jazz grass.

KM: Oh, I like that one!  It's way cooler sounding, but yeah, I don't know if there's a Grammy category for that yet (laughs).

JS: Exactly.  So, yeah and then when we have to be, we're country (laughs).

KM: You gotta get in where you fit in!  Another thing it says on your website, which I had to laugh at because it just sounds so funny, but makes total sense is that you're "road tested and band geek approved".

​JS:  ​(laughs) That's awesome!

KM: Then you ​read a little bit more about your songwriting process and it says that it develops a lot on the road and also notes that in 2017,  you played 120 shows.  So I guess that's where the road tested and band geek approved comes from maybe? ​In addition to that, let's talk about the development of the songwriting and performing, ​because you guys, a lot of times, work backwards of the way that a lot of bands do.  So, whereas most bands record in studio and then perform on the road, it's been noted that you kind of develop songs on the road and play them in a few different styles and then you had to the studio to record.  What made you take that approach?

JS: Well, the main reason that we've kind of taken that approach is because, you know, we like to let our songs grow quite a bit before we lock down the final.   So we'll get a song together and say, 'Look, this is a good working arrangement, we can go play this live and see how it feels and how people respond to it.'  Then we make subtle changes every night and we'll come offstage and say, 'Hey, there was a part of that, maybe we should do it a little more like this there,' and then it'll just stick and we do it different the next night. ​Usually, after a year or few months of playing a song, it's sometimes a completely different song than the original one that we came up with.   We like to let them breathe and grow a little bit before we go into the studio and make it permanent. 

On the other hand, now that we're recording more, and we're planning on releasing a lot more music soon and playing more shows and want to shoot videos, we're probably going to start holding some more songs back.  We'll do the whole go into the studio, record and then wait for the album to come out before we start actually performing the songs. There's a little bit of a shift happening for us as far as that goes.

Jon Stickley
Jon Stickley

KM: So you guys are out in Vegas right now for Bender Jamboree and then you're back on the East Coast, doing a couple shows with ​Front Country, who I really like, then you're up in Baltimore for Charm City Bluegrass with another great list. ​ After seeing you Friday you seem to really vibe off of and ​mesh well with the crowd.  ​The variance between small bar rooms or much more intimate venues and festivals is a stark difference.  In your eyes, what are some, maybe positives and negatives of both a smaller, more intimate show and then also a bigger festival? ​  I feel like crowd energy and the setting has a lot of influence on how you guys play.

JS: We really like doing a lot of different things, you know, some more than others, but every setting has its ups and down.  We do small intimate rooms, even acoustic house concerts every now and then, but not as much anymore.  There's something so intimate and special about that, it almost like feels like we're playing around the house at a picking party or around a campfire, which is really our favorite place to hang and play music at festivals - late at night around the campfire.   If we can get that feeling to come on stage with us, which a lot of the time, is pretty hard to achieve, then that always feels really good and it's easier in the smaller setting. ​​We do that whenever we can.

You know, we got into this as fans and as amateur musicians who just love to play music and pick and that's what we did for fun and it just slowly became a thing.  I got my first gig and then you realize you can get paid for it, so you want to do that​ more and it just grows and grows and now we're here.

When we get a chance to go to a festival where we can get out into the campground, like Delfest or anything at Spirit of the Swanee Music Park.

KM: Yeah, I've heard that's amazing.  I gotta get down there!

John Stickley
Jon Stickley

​JS: That really is our favorite spot.  It's kind of our festival home and that's a big part of it.  It's a very comfortable, relaxing, spacious environment​.  We set up camp and we're there for four night​s.  We hang out and we play music and we do our sets, but really it takes us back to that original feeling we used to have where you're just having fun. It's dark, there's a campfire and it really is our favorite . 

​Then on the flip side, you can get into a small club with a rowdy crowd and it's almost like going back to the days of bar gigs where ​you know, nothing mattered as much.  We really enjoyed those types of shows because of how they make us feel and how it makes us play. ​  Big festival stages have their own really amazing experience where you've got all that space and the sound system is ​crazy.  What they have now - you can just feel it rumbling under your feet and you have the huge stage that you get to run around on and it opens things up. I hope that's a good answer, we kind of love different things about all of it.

KM: Speaking of loving different qualities in a lot of different things, ​being that you guys travel so much, do you make sure you get to do certain things in any given places?  Making sure that you have extra time in favorite places maybe or is that not even possible?

​JS: Well, we rarely build in extra time for for leisure and cultural enrichment activities just because when we're out on the road, it's like, basically, you should be working because it's expensive to be out here. ​Time off is money lost and blah, blah, blah, time away from home. ​ When we do end up with time, we try to fill it in productive ways.  Sometimes ​we do need rest though and so we'll do something like go to the hot springs out west.  If we're out in Colorado, we'll go do that for a day and just camp out at the hot springs.  We get to sit there and relax, go hike and do some outdoor stuff.   When we're in a city, we'll maybe go to movies together and we definitely try to soak in the local culture.  We'll try to eat ​local foods and what not for sure.​  

KM: Okay, so back to your kind of wide variety of taste in music. My last questions revolve around all the different types of music you would want to listen to during certain times. 

I'm going to give you a situation and you tell me a band you would be listening to ​that fits that mood.  Ready?

JS: Okay.

KM: You guys are deep into tour. You're kind of dragging a little bit. You've got a big show that night and it's about 30 minutes before set time. You need to get real hype, real quick.   

JS: I'm probably going Green Day

KM: What about if you guys are out at the hot spring, you're out in the woods just relaxing.  You're sitting around the fire, and it's just been a day out in nature, camping and hiking.

JS: Probably David Grisman Quintet.

KM: Now you guys are on the tour bus and you're trying to annoy your two other bandmates with some blaring music.

JS: Probably No Efex.

KM: There you go. And if you could put together ​a festival lineup that intermingled music genres some, who are some of the artists or bands that you would have on there as kind of, like the high up, night performances, big time closers.

JS: Gosh, um well my new favorite band of course, Khruangbin​, they stole our hearts on Jam Cruise.  David Grisman Quintet.  Oh man this is fun, I could think about this for a while!  Lake Street Dive is a good one.  Leftover Salmon to bring the party. ​Jon Stickley Trio because I'd definitely want to be in on it.  I gotta say one more.  This new band that we heard called Upstate.  They're amazing from New York.  

KM: Oh, never heard of them, I'll have to check them out.

JS: Yeah, they rock. Oh! Fruition ​has to be on there too.  Then maybe Badfish, the Sublime tribute.

KM: That's a pretty good lineup, I'd pay a good amount to go to that festival!

JS: Maybe I should start a new career.

KM: Well, I think that's about all I've got. I hope you guys have a great show at Bender and we'll see you at the end of April up in Baltimore, hopefully smelling like Old Bay.

JS: Yeah, we're really looking forward to our first Charm City!

Performance Details

Performance Details



The Jon Stickley Trio is scheduled to perform at Charm City Bluegrass on Saturday, April 27 between 11:45 AM and 12:30 PM.

Friday, April 26  and

Saturday, April 27

Charm City Bluegrass

Druid Hill Park

Baltimore, MD 21211

(Google Maps Link)

$32 - $182 -

  • Single-Day
  • Two-Day
  • VIP Passes Available

Please check link below

About the author
Karin McLaughlin

Karin McLaughlin

Karin has been a live music junkie all her life, however is a fairly new fan in the world of jam bands and bluegrass. She grew up on hip hop, classic soul, motown and classic rock but has found a new home in the festival world and that is what, in part, had brought her to DC Music Review. Karin produces and hosts a weekly radio show in the area called Karin's Calendar, where she talks all about 'Where to be in the DMV'. She is very excited to be starting down a semi-new road with us and hopes to use her interview skills and write ups of shows to contribute even more to DC Music Review.