The Jon Stickley Trio are acoustic daredevils
There are really good guitarists, and then there is Jon Stickley. His speed, precision and control on the acoustic six-string are all astonishing, but it’s not just about flash; Stickley is just as fond of strong melody as he is a dazzling solo. Mixing classical, jazz and bluegrass on his instrument, Stickley is a wonder, and what’s perhaps most fascinating about his band, the Jon Stickley Trio, is that he found two other players who are every bit his equal on their respective instruments.
Violinist Lyndsay Pruett can, and often does, stand toe-to-toe with Stickley onstage; watching the two of them duel their way through the band’s repertoire (three albums and an EP since 2012) is one of the most thrilling high-wire experiences in acoustic music.
Up until 2018, the foundation for Stickley and Pruett’s melodic back-and-forth was drummer Patrick Armitage. But early last year, Armitage left the band and was replaced by Hunter Deacon, a classically-trained percussionist who had dipped his toes in all sorts of different genres. Stickley says that that change has opened up new worlds for the trio.
“Our old drummer was a killer, pocket-groove based drummer,” Stickley says, ‘but we wanted to go more in an improvisational, free-flowing direction, with the same kind of groove we’ve always had. Hunter has played rock, he’s played jazz, he’s played Meters-style stuff, and he fits as an equal third as far as the creativity goes.”
Armitage was a vital component to the propulsive sound on the band’s albums, and it might seem like making a transition to a new drummer would be difficult, especially for a tight-knit trio. But Stickley says Deacon learned their old material so quickly that the transition was fairly seamless.
“It was a pretty easy, just because Hunter is so good,” he says. “He studied up hard on the old material, and he was able to play it pretty much verbatim from day one. And then we told him to put his own spin on it, which kind of refreshed it and made the old stuff more fun to play. He’s really exactly what we were looking for. We needed a little more inspiration from the percussion side of things, and that’s what we got.”
Naturally, the new blood has had an effect on the songwriting, as well. Those who go to the trio’s show at The Firmament in Greenville on Friday will hear some new material that the band is working on for a new album, material that ventures into previously unexplored territory.
“We’re using some grooves we’ve never messed with before,” Stickley says. “We’re a little bit in the dance music world, a little in the Latin world, and we’re able to experiment a lot more and hop from style to style a little more fluidly.”
And there’s no better place for the trio to break in that new material than onstage.
“We typically like to road test at least half of our new songs if we can,” Stickley says, “because as we play it live, the music really evolves through that process. So before we go do recording, we like to let the songs grow through live performance first. It’s mainly about what feels right, and the audience helps us figure that out. We pay a lot of attention to what they respond to.”
Speaking of audiences, the band has been steadily building a bigger one in Greenville. They started at smaller clubs like the Radio Room and Gottrocks and have been able to move to 600-plus capacity venues like The Firmament and The Spinning Jenny, something that Stickley says caught him off guard.
“I would say that the Greenville audience ALWAYS surprises us,” he says. “I don’t know why, exactly, but for some reason we just didn’t expect to have as much of a following as we do there. But every time we play, we have more and more people, and it’s one of the most enthusiastic, engaged crows that we play for anywhere.”
What: Jon Stickley Trio, w/ the West End String Band and Mourning Dove
Where: The Firmament, 5 Market Point Dr., Greenville
When: Friday, Feb. 15th, 8:30 p.m.
Info: 864-616-5101, http://www.firmamentgvl.com/
Vincent Harris covers the local and regional music scenes for the Greenville Journal. Follow him on Facebook & Twitter @HarrisVince or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.