Tour de Coal and Yak Fest return to St. Albans this weekend, and Fletcher’s Grove bassist John Inghram has a small confession to make.
“Personally, I’m not a kayaker,” he said.
Yak Fest celebrates life along the river in “The Flatwater Capitol of the World,” with music, exhibits, crafts and food. The festival is built around the Tour de Coal, an 11-mile float trip along the Coal River from Hurricane to St. Albans.
Fletcher’s Grove headlines Yak Fest’s concert Saturday night and Inghram said that even if everyone in the band isn’t into paddling kayaks, their hearts are in the right place.
“We’re all really outdoorsy guys,” he said. “Ryan [Krofcheck] and myself love to fish. We’re all hikers, campers — stuff like that.”
Maybe some of the other guys in the band are kayakers, Inghram added. He was pretty sure some of them were.
The subject probably hasn’t come up.
Inghram, from Charleston, is the latest addition to the Morgantown-based indie Americana and jam band. He joined Fletcher’s Grove almost three years ago, while the group was just beginning to adapt and evolve both artistically and professionally.
Fletcher’s Grove has been mostly known as a jam band, which Inghram agreed wasn’t inaccurate, but it also wasn’t all Fletcher’s Grove did or was capable of. When it came time to begin work on a new record, he said the band wanted to move in a different direction.
“When we started conceptualizing this record, we wanted to focus more on the songwriting,” he said. “We looked at shorter songs with less soloing.”
What they came up with was “Waiting out the Storm,” which has more of a progressive bluegrass and alt-country flavor.
“We were looking at more of an Americana flavor,” he said.
Inghram said they approached the new record very differently than previous releases. Instead of hunkering down together in a studio and trying to write together, each member of the band went off on his own and worked on material.
“Then we brought it in,” he said. “We streamlined the process and brought in songs, ready to go.”
Recorded and mixed by Fletcher’s Grove drummer Tommy Bailey, Inghram said the record really put the band’s best foot forward.
“It’s just a much more mature sound,” he said. “I think we hit all of our marks. I’m really proud of it.”
The hope of the more mature sound with fewer expansive songs is that it will help Fletcher’s Grove broaden its audience and maybe lead to some independent radio airplay, but Inghram said they’re not abandoning their longtime fans or the jam music circuit.
Really, all Fletcher’s Grove is trying to do, he said, is strip off a label.
“You can get pigeonholed into being one thing and that can be frustrating for any artist,” he said.
So far, so good. Inghram said Fletcher’s Grove has picked up some notice from a few magazines including The Bluegrass Situation and The Alternate Root, which cover roots music, Americana and progressive bluegrass.
“We probably wouldn’t have gotten that, otherwise,” he said.
The record has also been praised by Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon, The String Cheese Incident’s Jason Hann and Larry Keel, popular artists in progressive bluegrass and jam music.
Inghram promised that whatever kind of music you wanted to call it, a Fletcher’s Grove live show was still a great time with high energy, groovy music that you can dance to or just chill and nod your head.
About the kayaks at Yak Fest, Inghram said they looked like a lot of fun.
“Maybe we’ll get out there,” he said.
Info: Yak Fest opens at 2 p.m. Friday and noon Saturday.
Shows on Friday begin at 3 p.m. and include Albert Frank Perrone, Heather & Travro, Blues Crossing and Creek Don’t Rise with Mountain Heart performing at 8 p.m.
Shows on Saturday begin at 1 p.m. and include Emma Meadows, Scott Honaker, Dave McCorkmick, McKenna Hope, Stephen Jones and Cross Fire, Yarn and concluding with Fletcher’s Grove, beginning at 8 p.m.