by Carlina Grillo and Brad Butterfield
“She makes it look easy, but I assure you – it is not,” banjo player Kyle Tuttle said to an audience of over 800 packed into the Van Duzer theater on Saturday, Oct. 7. Tuttle was referring to the guitar-phenom standing center stage who had sold out the venue, Molly Tuttle. The Tuttles were joined onstage by stand up bassist, Shelby Mea, and mandolin player, Dominick Leslie, calling themselves Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway. For over an hour, Molly and her band put on an absolute clinic of bluegrass musicianship to a unanimously captivated audience.
The night began with opener Cristina Vane who detailed the hellish 37 hour drive that the performers recently made from Nashville. She clarified that it was the most beautiful hell you can be in.
Vane’s set consisted of skillful guitar playing, stellar vocals and ultimate confidence on stage. Her style of music both tipped the hat to traditional country, folk and bluegrass, while remaining distinctly unique with a contemporary sound. It would have been a tough act to follow, had the next performer been anyone other than two-time International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) guitarist of the year, also the first woman to win the award, Molly Tuttle.
Molly’s booking at the Van Duzer theater is in large part thanks to Michael Moore Jr., the Associate Director of the Gutswurrak Student Activity Center and the lead of the Centre Arts program.
“Molly is early in her career and she’s really on the rise right now,” Moore said. “This is mostly a community show, there are some students here and it’s over 10% students, so it’s not like it’s a small number, but it’s mostly community.”
Tickets to the show were free to all students currently enrolled at Cal Poly Humboldt. Allison Hair had a fun time despite the low student turnout.
“I love Molly Tuttle,” Hair said. “I think she’s really beautiful and talented. I was kind of sad there were no students here, but I had fun.”
Tuttle learned to play guitar by ear, only receiving a formal education in music when she enrolled in Berklee College of Music. Once the crowd had been warmed up, the bassist and mandolin player exited the stage for the Tuttle duo’s rendition of “San Francisco Blues,” which Tuttle described as a universal feeling.
“I got the San Francisco blues / Now there’s nothin’ left to lose / I can’t afford the dues and so I’m leavin.”
In another ode to the Golden State, Molly Tuttle and the Golden Highway played a cover of “White Rabbit,” originally written by the San Francisco band Jefferson Airplane. While the song may not seem suited for a bluegrass cover, the band captured the essence of the song with brilliant musicianship and uninhibited vocals from Molly, who has also won IMBA’s female vocalist of the year for the past two years.
An undeniable aspect of Molly’s performance and music is her acceptance of, and strength to share her experience with alopecia, an ailment which causes hair loss.
“I was inspired and moved to tears when she took off her wig before performing ‘Crooked Tree,’” said Jennifer Trowbridge, an accomplished guitarist and professor teaching music classes at Cal Poly Humboldt.
Not only did Molly hit each note perfectly throughout the performance, her band also played exceptionally well, continually weaving in and out of lead parts with ease. It was a special night to be in the Van Duzer theater and Molly’s confidence and conviction were infectious.
Among the many empowering songs in Molly’s setlist was a song called “Side Saddle.”
I said I don’t wanna ride side-saddle / Side-saddle, side-saddle / I just wanna ride bow-legged / Bow-legged like the boys.
“This song resonates with me as a female guitarist and teacher,” said Trowbridge. “In the CSU system, there are over 40 guitar instructors and only two are women.”
Before her final songs, Molly told the packed theater that she was going to let her hair down and subsequently tossed her wig onto a chair lit by a spotlight. The band circled around a singular microphone and closed the show to an entranced audience.
“She sang powerfully and looked like my imagination of a chic Amazon[ian] warrior,” Trowbridge added. “She absolutely glowed. As a woman, I felt proud of her strength and courage to share it on stage,” said Trowbridge.