Molly Tuttle: Revolutionizing Bluegrass with a Modern Twist
UPDATED: April 5, 2024
UPDATED: April 5, 2024

Molly Tuttle stands out in the bluegrass tradition, showcasing exceptional skill as a vocalist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. Her distinctive approach to bluegrass is marked by her proficiency in flatpicking, clawhammer, and crosspicking guitar techniques. Tuttle’s music brings freshness to the roots genre, integrating personal storytelling with traditional sounds. Her journey into music began at a young age, influenced by bluegrass icons and under the mentorship of role models like Laurie Lewis and Kathy Kallick in the Bay Area. These influences are heard in Tuttle’s introspective songwriting, which bravely explores personal narratives and broader socio-cultural themes within bluegrass frameworks.

In her work, Tuttle has exhibited an inclination to expand the narrative boundaries of bluegrass music. From songs that reflect women’s perspectives in the industry to tales embedded in family history and personal experiences, her discography has evolved to include a variety of stories that resonate widely. Her latest album, City of Gold, exemplifies this progression and represents a more collective vision, with songs inspired by her band members and their shared experiences on the road. Her partnership with Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show in crafting the album showcases the merging of distinct creative processes, contributing to richly layered and evocative songwriting.

Beyond her music, Tuttle’s personal journey with alopecia has become an integral part of her narrative and stage presence. She cultivates moments of vulnerability and empowerment, sometimes choosing to perform without her wig as a bold statement of self-acceptance and courage. Songs like Crooked Tree are emblematic of this approach, capturing both the joy and challenges of embracing one’s uniqueness. Through her authenticity, Tuttle connects deeply with audiences and the alopecia community, sharing a powerful message: it’s okay to stand out and be a Crooked Tree. Her capacity to blend the personal with the professional, onstage and off, has won her a prominent place in today’s bluegrass scene and a connection with fans across genres.

Early Life and Background

Molly Tuttle’s journey into the world of music began early, deeply rooted in her California upbringing within a musically inclined family. Her evolution from a precocious learner to a recognized artist tracks back to her formative years, containing a rich blend of personal challenges and educational accomplishments that shaped her distinct artistry.

Family and Musical Upbringing

Born in Palo Alto, Molly Tuttle was immersed in music through her family band, performing with her father, Jack Tuttle, a veteran musician and teacher, who introduced her to various instruments from a young age. The tutelage under her father’s guidance laid a solid foundation for her instrumental prowess. Michael, her younger brother, also played an essential part in this family-oriented musical journey.

Education at Berklee College of Music

Molly’s musical path led her to the prestigious Berklee College of Music, where she honed her skills further and explored new realms of her musicality. Her education there was a transformative period, culminating in numerous accolades and an expanded creative outlook that fueled her subsequent career endeavors.

Battle with Alopecia

Throughout her life, Molly has been candid about her experience with alopecia, a condition causing hair loss, which she has spoken about in the context of her songwriting and performances. Her openness and resilience in discussing and embracing this part of her life have won her admiration and served as an inspiration to many.

Molly Tuttle has emerged as a significant figure in bluegrass and Americana music, renowned for her distinctive style that fuses elements of folk, country, rock, and pop. An acclaimed musician, her virtuosic guitar skills and insightful songwriting have earned her a unique place in contemporary music.

Rise to Fame

In the bluegrass tradition, a genre often dominated by male musicians, Molly Tuttle’s skill as a guitarist and singer-songwriter rapidly distinguished her. Her journey was marked by a historic moment in 2017 when she broke gender barriers by becoming the first woman to receive the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year award. Such recognition signaled not just Tuttle’s technical prowess, but her ability to resonate with audiences and peers alike, elevating her presence in the bluegrass community. Partnerships with artists like Sierra Hull and Billy Strings, and performances with groups such as the Old Crow Medicine Show, further bolstered her reputation, positioning her as one of Nashville’s most promising talents.

Solo Career and Collaborations

Molly Tuttle’s solo career is accentuated by her EP releases and a growing discography that showcases her range as an artist. Her albums are replete with stories that explore personal and universal themes, delivered through a blend of bluegrass, Americana, and a touch of pop sensibility. The album City of Gold stands as a testament to her collaborative spirit and storytelling abilities, addressing tales of love, loss, and the world’s rapid changes. Tuttle’s partnership with Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show on the writing of this album is an exemplar of how collaboration can bring out the strengths of each musician. Her approach to music is a balance of honoring traditional bluegrass roots while infusing her own perspectives and experiences, an approach that has been embraced by fans and critics alike. This balance is perhaps most evident in her album Crooked Tree, which delves into her personal history including her experiences living with alopecia, reflecting a level of vulnerability and courage that defines her as much off stage as on it.

Discography

Molly Tuttle has made significant contributions to bluegrass and roots music through both her solo work and collaborations. Her discography showcases a range of projects that reflect her virtuosic musicianship and insightful songwriting.

Solo Recordings

  • Albums
  • EPs
    • “Rise” (2017)
    • “But I’d Rather Be With You” (2020, Covers EP)

Collaborative Projects

    • The Tuttles
      • Molly Tuttle performed and recorded with her family band, The Tuttles, showcasing her early roots in music.
    • Goodbye Girls
      • She also played as part of the all-women’s group Goodbye Girls, mixing traditional and contemporary influences.
    • First Ladies of Bluegrass
      • Tuttle joined forces with the First Ladies of Bluegrass, a group boasting the first women to win International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) awards on their respective instruments.
    • Side Projects
      • Tuttle frequently collaborates with other artists, contributing to various albums and performances that highlight her versatility.

Instrumental Skills and Style

Molly Tuttle has established herself as a preeminent talent in roots music, with a virtuosic command over both the guitar and banjo. Her award-winning instrumental abilities combine with a distinctive vocal prowess to create a unique blend in the folk and bluegrass genres.

Guitar and Banjo Mastery

Hailed as a flatpicking virtuoso, Tuttle’s guitar work is characterized by its technical precision and emotional expression. Her mastery of the instrument has earned her accolades, such as being named Instrumentalist of the Year at the 2018 Americana Music Awards. Not limited to the guitar, Tuttle’s proficiency extends to the banjo, where she skillfully marries traditional techniques with innovative stylings. Her collaborative work with Old Crow Medicine Show reflects her ability to interlace bluegrass traditions with contemporary flair.

Vocal Techniques and Performances

As an expressive vocalist, Molly Tuttle’s performances showcase her nuanced songwriting and dynamic range. Her voice complements her instrumental skills, adding depth to the stories she tells through her music. This synergy between her vocals and strings is evident in critically acclaimed albums, where the vitality of her performances shines through, cementing her role not just as a guitarist but as a holistic musician. Information on Tuttle’s rise and recognition as an instrumentalist can be found in depth in this piece about how Molly Tuttle found her mojo, which demonstrates her growth and impact on the music landscape.

Influence and Legacy

Molly Tuttle has emerged as a pivotal figure in the modern bluegrass and Americana music scenes, earning accolades, influencing budding artists, and continuously contributing to the genres’ evolution with her innovative approach to songwriting and guitar playing.

Impact on Bluegrass and Americana

Molly Tuttle has significantly impacted both bluegrass and Americana music. She made history as the first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year award, not just once but twice, showcasing exceptional skill and breaking barriers within a traditionally male-dominated genre. Molly’s music bridges the gap between traditional and contemporary sounds, evident in her album Crooked Tree, which infuses personal narratives into the bluegrass tradition. Influenced by pioneers like Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch, Molly pushes the boundaries of bluegrass, bringing fresh perspectives much as her predecessors did.

Inspiration to New Artists

Tuttle’s journey and success have become a beacon for new artists, especially women in bluegrass and Americana music. Her approach to songwriting—blending personal stories with the fabric of traditional bluegrass—has inspired artists to pen their truth within this genre framework. Following her 2023 GRAMMY nomination for Best New Artist, Molly epitomizes how modern musicians can honor music history while forging new paths, setting an inspiring example for the next generation seeking authenticity in their artistry.

Award Highlights

  • Guitar Player of the Year: Molly Tuttle made history as the first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year award, a testament to her remarkable talent and influence on the genre.
  • Grammy Awards: She has earned critical acclaim at the highest levels, including winning Best Bluegrass Album with her band Golden Highway, solidifying her status within the music community.

Final Thoughts

Molly Tuttle’s journey through the world of bluegrass is as distinct as her fingerpicking guitar style. She stands as a beacon of innovation within a genre revered for its traditions. Her discography reveals an artist who both honors the roots of bluegrass and propels it forward. Crooked Tree, for instance, demonstrates her ability to tell personal tales and raise the banner for women’s voices in the genre.

Onstage, Tuttle exudes a charm and amiability matched by her proficiency as a musician. Her approach to music is a blend of homage and originality, creating a soundscape that is uniquely her own. With her latest release, City of Gold, she expands upon her narrative, infusing the album with stories from her life and experiences on the road, as well as those inspired by her band members.

Her authenticity is magnified in her performances, particularly when she shares her experiences with alopecia. Such honesty fosters a connection with audiences, drawing them closer not only to her music but to her story of courage and acceptance. This gift of vulnerability on stage speaks volumes about her personality, extending beyond the music and touching the lives of many.

Molly Tuttle remains a vibrant figure in the continuously evolving tapestry of roots music. Her contributions not only highlight the vibrant potential within the genre but assure that her place within it will be long remembered. With her innovative style, Tuttle’s music captivates, educates, and inspires, ensuring that the legacy of bluegrass remains fresh and exciting for future generations.

For Tour and Merch: Follow Molly Tuttle

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