Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway set the Jon Van Duzer Theater ablaze on Saturday, October 7th to a packed house. The quintet performed at the former Humboldt State University, now called Cal Poly, as they kicked off their West Coast Road to Eldorado Tour. The previous night they had played at the Rebels and Renegades festival, however Molly and the rest of the gang acknowledged this show as being the “first real stop” on their west coast run and expressed gratitude and excitement that they got to “kick it off, here in Arcata”!
Before Molly and her dusty desperados emerged, the opener, Christina Vane, performed solo and delivered an evocative set of original material. Christina comfortably moved through her repertoire, expounding between songs on their relevance and meaning. Her performance proved intimate and authentic. There’s a warmth that could be felt radiating from her as she commented on several inspirations that compelled her musically. Her prowess matched the depth of her character, skillfully cycling through her instruments. She rotated through a steel guitar, a Strat style electric, and a Banjo, all of which she had acquired while hanging around the Golden State.
The Jon Van Duzer Theater was buzzing. While the stage crew prepared for Molly and Golden Highway, fans mingled near their seats. The lights dimmed briefly; the venue became silent, then as Molly emerged, hoops and hollers flooded the auditorium. The entire band was beaming. “How you doing Arcata?!” yelled Molly as they rolled into their first number, Evergreen, OK.
The performance showcased their new album City of Gold, as well as touching on some meaningful covers and some compositions from the album Crooked Tree. Molly is palpably aglow with the aura of success. At the moment, she has just received the IBMA awards for Song, Vocalist, and Album of the year – a momentous achievement, to say the least. It is also a telling turn for which direction contemporary bluegrass will take into the foreseeable future.
Following Evergreen OK, was another tune off City Of Gold, Eldorado. Next up was Side Saddle which Molly introduced by inquiring “Any California cowgirls in the house tonight?” Upon finishing the previous song, Molly took some time to share some thoughts with the crowd.Molly is a California Native, with a large portion of her music referencing the Golden State, and it’s not surprising that she had some things to share. “You know, (Humboldt State) it’s always where I wanted to go to college. So many of the cool kids from my highschool went up to Humboldt State. I wanted to go up with you guys. It sounds really fun but we get to be here now so we’re making up for it”.
Molly laughed and speculated she most likely would have been skipping class and “romping around in the redwoods.” She sarcastically scolded her bandmates for slinking off to play some music inside a redwood tree while she did some things around the Van Duzer. She explained the premise of the next tune “Down Home Dispensary”. She explained that this number could be seen as an “open letter” to the state of Tennessee, which as you may or may not know, has not legalized cannabis. Molly told us that she now lives in Nashville and they don’t have all the “nice things” the Californians have (inting at legal Cannabis).
After wrapping up the last tune, Molly Introduced Kyle Tuttle on banjo. He jumped at the opportunity to speak and fired off a clever comment. “I’m Hum-boldt to be here,” to which the crowd erupted in laughter. Molly then went on to clear up some confusion about their song Yosemite which was written as a duet (originally featuring Dave Matthews) and at a recent show it was referenced as being a sorrowful tune that spoke about Kyle and Molly’s Divorce. She squashed that rumor and Kyle went on to say “we don’t want to make anybody sad and we don’t want to confuse anybody either. You know Molly’s right folks, people, all the time wonder and often ask, are we siblings? Are we brother and sister? Are we cousins? And are we married? I think really truly this is bluegrass music, right? So it doesn’t have to be just one of those things… you know what I mean?” The room lit up in an uproarious laughter as they commenced, Yosemite.
Wasting no time, the band seamlessly danced into Open Water. This wild little instrumental number was mesmerizing to watch. Their very own fiddler, Bronwyn Keith Hynes, wrote the song. The entire band chimed in, but I found Bronwyn’s performance in this tune to be flawless. It’s worth noting here that this entire outfit has an infectiously joyful stage presence, nailing solos left-to-right while also grooving out at every opportunity. They then rolled into the original Next Rodeo.
“Since we’re in Humboldt county there’s got to be some deadheads in the house tonight?,? Molly asked. Oh, yes indeed! And to my delight she began her wonderful rendition of the Grateful Dead’s Dire Wolf. Hearing a female vocalist as talented as her perform this was pure bliss. Over the Line was next up.
A cherished cover followed up the previously mischievous tune. Molly has stated that John Hartford was a huge influence in her music and she foreshadowed the tune asking “alright, who’s ready to boogie down with us for this next song”? Boogie, a John Hartford tune, rang out into the auditorium. Up until this point, people were swaying in their seats, but two brave souls stood up and bounced into the aisle in a righteous accordance. Hesitant concert goers were met with encouragement from Molly,“I see a couple of people boogying. I think we can do better. When I count to four, we want all of you to leap up and show us your best dance moves”! The entire venue stood up, young and old, and as the band commenced a rapturous breakdown and the room exploded with self expression. It was a beautiful sight. The penultimate communal experience. The vision almost moved me to tears. This is why I am alive.
As the song came to a close, Kyle peered out into the crowd, looking satisfied. “Mighty fine, mighty fine, mighty fine.” Molly once again foreshadowed the next two songs, “we’re going to take it down the rabbit hole now.” The troupe moved into Alice in the Bluegrass then rolled into Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit showing off their psychedelic chops. This is where I first took notice of Dominick Leslie, the mandolin player. During this tune, I felt an elevated driving nature coming from his side of the stage.
Next up was the classic Sleepy-Eyed Jon by Johnny Horton. After this arrangement, the band stepped back, and the spotlight fixed itself upon Molly. She asked the crowd what they desired to hear. Standing on the Moon was suggested, then Molly heard someone say Olympia, WA. She liked that, explaining she had a punk phase in her youth and so the exquisite Rancid cover began, shortly followed by San Francisco Blues off the Crooked Tree album.. Leslie joined Molly for an intimate instrumental, the Dawg Waltz, compliments of the great David Grisman. I had been chasing the latter song for years, and was pleased as punch to hear it live.
Dooley’s Farm is a rebellious number that strikes close to the hearts of her fans. The attention Molly shows to uprooting cultural norms takes shape clearly in this number. A song about an outlaw farmer showcasing a plethora of well-articulated imagery and telling a story of his secretive procedures pertaining to his crops. Next up was Castilleja, a bonafide ballad of love, equating to the California gold rush set within the unruly ways of the wild west. Where did all the Wild Things Go? Stood out with contributions from all sides of the stage. The highly singable chorus had the audience audibly chiming in.
Before diving into the next song, Molly went on to speak about her experience growing up with Alopecia, having to wear wigs and hats before finally realizing how our weakness can become our greatest strengths, how they can make us unique. It absolutely moved me. I related with the feeling and identified wholly with the song’s sentiment. Molly plays for the crooked trees! The special souls! The different folks! And so Ms. Tuttle filled the room with the sonic waves of Crooked Tree, a song so dear it holds the album’s namesake.
The emotional and meaningful nature of the last song can be held in contrast to the next number, San Joaquin. A raucous smuggler’s tune conjuring images of California highways and boasting “Riding on the San Joaquin Bringing in some Humboldt green,” which of course birthed hefty smirks upon the more anti-authoritarian portion of the crowd. Closing out the set was Take the Journey. As the band jammed through their introductions, bassist Shelby Means, along with the rest of the band, busted out some blistering solos. After finishing up the band took their bow and exited, however, the crowd knew something good was just around the corner.
As the troubadours took the stage for their encore, they gathered together around a single microphone, old-time style. They plunged into an evocative Gordon Lightfoot cover, Redwood Hill. Christina Vane then joined them for a heavenly rendition of Big Backyard followed by a tune written by Kyle and Molly, June Apple. After this, the entire group took a more enthusiastic bow out to a standing ovation.
Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway bring the heat. When it comes to talent, it’s obvious, but when you fuse this with a joyful stage presence and an admirable honesty, you walk away feeling connection, love, and satisfaction. The attention she has garnered is more than deserved. Her diverse interests and influences add depth and individuality to her music and her life story adds layers of meaning. Memorable is the ultimate takeaway here. Don’t miss your chance to catch these dusty desperados on their West Coast Road to Eldorado tour.
Follow more of Aaron’s work at JamminOnTheGrass!