Updated: Mar 13, 2019
Cecilia Brown, Mining Journal
September 13th, 2018
MARQUETTE — Frostbitten Grass, a Marquette-based bluegrass band that played in Marquette and throughout the midwest in the early 2000s, will be playing Friday night at the Ore Dock Brewing Company in Marquette, starting at 9 p.m. with openers Ray Little & the Big Bay City Rollers.
The band will be playing with their full lineup and original mandolin player for the first time since 2004 — members Matt Sayles, Ryan Olthouse, Bob Guidebeck, Sven Gonstead and Ken Thiemann will all be there, Sayles said.
“This is the first time that all of us are back together, and that’s why we are all excited about it,” Sayles said.
While the band has reunited and played shows at events such as Hiawatha and Philstock in the previous years, it’s the first time all members will be back together since 2004.
“We got together and we’ve played as Frostbitten Grass without Ryan a couple times,” Sayles said, but noted the band “never really felt like it was frostbitten grass without Ryan.”
While three of the bands five members live in the U.P., the other two members will be traveling from other areas to play the show, Sayles said, as he himself resides in Ventura, California.
“We’re rehearsing remotely (and) we’re going to get together a couple days before the show,” Sayles said.
When all members are back together this week, he said, they’ll be reconnecting and rehearsing at member’s deer camp where they “used to retreat to when we were writing songs back in the day.”
“I don’t think the whole band has been out there since 2004,” he said.
The band has a long history, Sayles said, getting its start while he attended Northern Michigan University from 1996 to 2000 — initially, Frostbitten Grass was a duo, formed by Sayles and Olthouse, who both had an “intense love of bluegrass.”
The name for the band, as many might guess, was inspired by the U.P.’s cold winter weather — and, of course, bluegrass.
As time went on, the duo collected more members, including local bass player Bob Guidebeck, and would eventually tour all over the midwest and release two recordings, Sayles said.
One of the biggest things to help launch the band into a regional touring act, Sayles said, was a country music showdown held by local radio station WJPD — the band won the local country music showdown one year — then the following year, they won the state, which brought them to a national competition in Wheeling, West Virginia.
“(We) took it all the way there,” Sayles said. “I think too, it was fortunate timing for us, the movie ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’ came out just as we were forming as a group, (and there was a) ground swell of bluegrass traditional music — it was a novelty seeing younger guys playing bluegrass at that point.”
He said the recognition from this competition got the band a “few gigs opening up,” for other acts, which eventually lead to regional tours throughout the midwest on the festival circuit.
Sayles said while the band hasn’t been together with Ryan for a show since 2004, they “never officially broke up” — they went on hiatus because band members were moving from the Marquette area, starting and finishing degrees and jobs, but they’ve still worked to play gigs whenever they get a chance.
Sayles said he looks forward to returning to the U.P. to reconnect with band members and the U.P.’s music scene.
“(I’m) learning to really cherish the opportunity of being around people that you grew up with and have that shared heritage with,” he said.
Even though Sayles has traveled all around the United States and lived in many different places since Frostbitten Grass, he remains impressed with the Upper Peninsula’s music scene — especially the welcoming and supportive community of musicians.
“U.P. musicians are like none other,” he said, adding that there’s “a lot of love too, people take care of each other.”
Furthermore, he says they sincerely appreciate that “folks are still willing to come out and see us and that we still have a place in the U.P. after all these years.”
While the original Frostbitten Grass albums are out of print, Sayles said, two albums will be available for purchase on a USB flash drive at Friday night’s show.
Sayles’ own most recent record, which was recorded in Ventura, California, and released on vinyl will also be for sale at the event, he said. In addition to Frostbitten Grass merchandise, merchandise from the Big Bay City Rollers will also be available, Sayles said.
Sayles will also be playing a solo show, at the Orpheum Theater in Hancock with Heather Evans, Ray Little and Becka Roo from 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday, he said.
For more information on Frostbitten Grass, visit https://www.philvillerecords.com/frostbitten-grass