Michael Daves is a Grammy-nominated New York-based bluegrass, country, and rock musician whose unruly interpretations of American roots music standards have won him a place of almost fanatical admiration as a "renegade traditionalist." His regular Tuesday night performances at the Rockwood Music Hall are the stuff of New York legend. Daves has shared stages and recorded with Chris Thile, Steve Martin, Nickel Creek, Aoife O'Donovan, Tony Trischka, and Rosanne Cash as well.
Daves was born in Georgia in 1977 to parents who were amateur bluegrass musicians. His dad, who played banjo, and his mom, who played fiddle, were active in the local roots scene, and jam sessions at home were typical. Daves began playing guitar as a child and showed promise. By age ten he was playing in church and had discovered the music of the Ramones, AC/DC, and Led Zeppelin. Daves continued playing bluegrass while in high school -- while also playing rock -- and as an undergrad at Hampshire College in Western Massachusetts, even while formally studying jazz and ethnomusicology. He moved to New York in 2003 and began teaching music as well as showing up in clubs and at open-mike nights, where his impolite, unacademic approach to bluegrass was a hit with audiences. He sees himself as closer to the actual early bluegrass tradition than the overly reverential types who came later. He claims bluegrass is a rebel's genre that sought to remake centuries-old folk music through then emergent popular traditions like jazz, blues, and swing.
Daves played on Sonya Kitchell's Cold Day EP in 2004. He eventually earned a solo night at the Rockwood Music Hall in 2006, where he began not only working solo but encountering a host of other musicians, including Thile. Daves' fan base grew exponentially, as did his reputation among other players. In 2007 he recorded his self-produced debut album, Live at the Rockwood. His bespectacled stage appearance and animated presence evoked comparisons to the angry backwoods Appalachian musicians of earlier generations. In 2009 he played on Martin's critically acclaimed album The Crow and toured with him. Daves and Thile recorded Sleep with One Eye Open live to tape at Jack White's Third Man Studio over four days; it was released by Nonesuch Records to wide acclaim, resulting in a Grammy nomination for Best Bluegrass Album. The pair also contributed the track "Richmond Is a Hard Road to Travel" to ATO's 2013 compilation Divided & United: Songs of the Civil War.
Daves' next offering was the double album Orchids and Violence. The first disc features interpretations of (mostly) traditional songs recorded live to tape in a 19th century church -- also included is a cover of Mother Love Bone's "Stargazer" performed by an all-star acoustic roots music group. The second disc was recorded in Daves' home studio and takes a raw, experimental rock approach to the same material, with electric bass (played by his wife, Jessi Carter), drums, and electric guitar -- both mostly played by Daves. It was released by Nonesuch in February 2016. ~ Thom Jurek