This year’s annual Bluegrass and American Roots Festival features two nationally renowned bands: Henhouse Prowlers, a Chicago-based powerhouse that promotes the genre worldwide through its Bluegrass Ambassadors program, and Never Come Down, a five-piece group from Oregon that blends modern and traditional styles of bluegrass and Americana music.

“These bands represent the current state of bluegrass music,” said Denison Bluegrass and American Roots Ensemble director Adam Schlenker. “They blend traditional sounds and a lot of creative energy, and they showcase how songwriting moves the music forward while keeping traditions alive.”

The Henhouse Prowlers’ sound might be considered more traditional, but a focused listener will hear innovations that are unique to their music, Schlenker said.

“Never Come Down takes this idea head-on,” he said. “They use the voices of traditional bluegrass instruments to help them tell stories.”

Schlenker believes the most well-rounded growth comes from being well-grounded in the collective work of past generations. “Deep roots produce the most vibrant flowers,” he said.

Schedule of Events

7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16, in Swasey Chapel: Never Come Down

Weaving together modern and traditional styles of bluegrass and Americana, Never Come Down is a Portland, Oregon-based 5-piece composed of Joe Suskind (guitar), Crystal Lariza (vocals), Brian Alley (banjo), Kaden Hurst (mandolin), and Ben Ticknor (bass). Their dedication to thoughtful songwriting and dynamic arrangements highlights polished technical skills and a commitment to listening to each other. The band formed in 2018 and released their self-titled debut shortly thereafter. Their second album, Better Late Than Never, was released in 2021. They’ve toured internationally and have found acclaim at festivals and venues including Iceland Airwaves, John Hartford Memorial Fest, Americanafest, FreshGrass, and RockyGrass. Ticketed event.

Noon-3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, in the Eisner Center: Workshops

Workshops with The Henhouse Prowlers and Never Come Down will begin at noon with a band mixer. Each of the band members will join Denison’s American Roots faculty for pop-up bands with students and community members. Each band will rehearse for 45 minutes to work up a short set of music and then perform for each other. Musicians of all skill levels are welcomed to participate, and everyone is welcomed to observe. No tickets required.

7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, in Swasey Chapel: Henhouse Prowlers

Founded 17 years ago with the simple desire to play original and powerful bluegrass, this quartet now finds itself at the intersection of performance, diplomacy, and education. On stage, the group’s enthralling performances give audiences a sense of how much they love what they do. On record — including their 2021 release and ninth full-length album, The Departure — the band explores their collective life experiences through songwriting and intricate instrumentation. While bluegrass is the undeniable foundation of the Prowlers’ music, the band bends and squeezes the traditional form into a sound all of their own. Ticketed event.

Free and open to the public, but tickets are required where indicated.

January 31, 2024