Pass the bluegrass
The course of Pinecastle Records altered in 2010 about as rapidly as a banjo picker’s fingers skip across the strings.
In February 2010, the Columbus-based bluegrass label folded because of then-owner Tom Riggs’ poor health. By September it rose back with vigor.
“We want to put our name out there and let people know that we’re back in business,” said Matt Hood, vice president of publicity. “For the past few months we’ve been dealing with the administration side of business but we’ve got artists with real potential in the new year.”
After Dr. Lonnie Lassiter purchased the business, he immediately laid out a new vision for the label. Pinecastle aims to accomplish four specific initiatives, he said:
• To preserve the genre of bluegrass
• To advocate for artists
• To be innovative in the way it promotes talent
• To grow the fan base for bluegrass music overall.
Daniel Routh and his wife, Carolyn, carry the vocals for the band Nu-blu, the first to sign with the revitalized label three months ago.
Routh said working with Pinecastle fulfills a musical dream on various levels.
The Osborne Brothers, synonymous with the Pinecastle label, were one of the first groups to prick Routh’s bluegrass-loving ear.
Nu-blu was also the last group to sign with Pinecastle under the prior ownership of Tom Riggs. Routh said the band met Riggs at the International Bluegrass Music Association conference in 2009.
“We had a handshake agreement when we left,” Daniel said of his conversation with Riggs. “We were excited because we had this new album [“Night”] to put out. But then we got the news in February  that because of Mr. Riggs’ health the label was folding. We were just floored – we sat at the house for a couple of days just in shock.”
Longtime Pinecastle artist Phil Leadbetter seconded Routh’s sentiment.
Leadbetter and the group Grasstowne released a new album just before the announcement that Pinecastle would close. He said more than anything they needed the help of a label to promote the new album, so the announcement couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“I had no interest in going to other labels and hadn’t ever taken the time to think through what my options would be if they weren’t around,” said Leadbetter, who’s known for his dobro playing. “[Pinecastle folding] was a difficult time in my musical career.”
Wondering what its next move should be, Nu-blu pushed the national release of its album, “Night,” on its own. “Night” spent five weeks on the Americana Music Association’s Top 40 chart as an indie release.
“For an independent band it’s hard and for an independent bluegrass band it’s even harder. We had to establish our own momentum there,” said Routh.
Despite the surge of positive response, Nu-blu wasn’t ready to continue the road alone.
The band was elated when the call came in from Ethan Burkhardt and Hood that Pinecastle was back up and running.
“There are a few things that a label can do for a band that they can’t do for themselves,” Routh said. “The one thing that really made us want to go back was that Pinecastle has a very strong stance on ‘We’re a team.’”
Leadbetter said he stuck with Pinecastle for almost a decade before the company closed because of the staff.
“In a lot of situations with labels, you feel way down on the totem pole, especially with a label that has a large roster,” Leadbetter said. “With Pine-
castle I’ve always felt on their priority list.”
Hood said he was energized to draw Leadbetter back to the Pine-
“Everybody in the bluegrass world knows him,” Hood said. “He’s incredibly well-respected, but for me it was particularly exciting to get him back because he was one of the first artists I worked with after joining the label.”
Pinecastle allows the artist to be the artist, Routh said.
“They say, ‘Here, you make the music and we’ll do everything we need to do to get it out there and promote it,’” he said. “They don’t try to fit you into some sort of particular box.”
The label actually works outside any conforming box, Routh said, including encouraging Nu-blu to move forward with plans to create the first smart phone “app” for a bluegrass band.
The tool provides fan interaction with the band and offers access to music videos and live streaming of breaking news from the band.
“As an artist, trying to be creative all the time in your music – and nowadays you have to be creative in marketing – it’s great to have a label backing you that is willing to try new ideas,” Routh said.
The band re-signed with Pine-
castle in October. In November 2010, it released its new single, “Christmas in Dixie,” a cover song made famous by the band Alabama. The single quickly hit No. 1 on the Airplay Direct Top Bluegrass Album Chart.
Hood said Nu-blu emits a great bluegrass sound with just the right amount of contemporary edge to allow the group to grab attention from outside the bluegrass world. He said the band’s solid instrumentation also affords it the ability to incorporate its strong background in other genres.
Leadbetter said the label’s ability to recognize great talent and promote it across a wide fan base is vital to the life of its artists.
“Bluegrass is kind of a weird genre to promote because you have such a variety of ages who are attracted to the music,” he said. “Ethan and Matt think young and they think creative. They know the importance of using tools like Facebook and the Internet in general to generate interest. They, along with Lonnie, are bringing new vision to the label.”
Routh said he looks forward as an artist to being a part of that process.
“We completely support the label and will do anything to help them get their name back out there,” he said. “Pinecastle has a long history in this industry. For future generations that’s huge for them to be able to preserve that musical history.”
To learn more about the history of Pinecastle Records or more about where the label hopes to go, visit pinecastlemusic.com.