RON HARTMAN/CHRONICLE PHOTO - Fog Holler performs at the Axe & Fiddle on Thursday night.

COTTAGE GROVE – Side projects.

For many serious musicians, having those extra bands on the side is the only way they can make a decent living. It’s not uncommon, especially nowadays, for a musician to be a member of six, eight ,,, heck, maybe even 10 bands at the same time. 

That will never happen with Fog Holler. Discovered by Grammy Award-winning performer Laurie Lewis, the Bay Area street performers are all about staying dedicated to their own band, and building their own brand.  

“Basically, everything that we owe our success to came from playing on the streets and getting these strange, unusual gigs from people playing private parties that led to other gigs and meeting certain people,” guitar player and frontman Tommy Schulz said. 

“We’re out there playing four hours a day and that’s the best practice you can get, playing with each other,” banjo player Casey Holmberg said. 

“We all signed a contract that we wouldn’t have other side projects, because we’re playing four hours a day – that’s a big commitment,” bass fiddle player Noah Laniakea added. 

For quite some time in 2018, they were busking, relying on the kindness of strangers to get them through the night. 

Then came the moment every band dreams about. 

They were discovered!

“This woman walks by – and I’m in shock because it’s Laurie Lewis,” Schulz said. “She kind of got us in front of people at the Berkeley Bluegrass Festival – there’s a long history of bluegrass in there – David Grisman and Jerry Garcia grew up around there.” 

Grisman and Garcia collaborated with others to record Old & In the Way, one of the most iconic bluegrass albums of all time. 

Fog Holler has produced three records on their own before deciding to outsource the job for their upcoming CD. The band isn’t afraid to tackle tough topics. Mental health, climate change, and gender expression are just some of the themes explored on their second album, “Rocking in a Weary Land.”

Other highlights were a jam called “Bone In,” a beautiful slow instrumental called “Under the Light of the Moon,” and Bill Monroe’s “The First Whippoorwill,’ which had everybody’s feet tapping. 

“In an era where there’s a lot of electronic music in the festival scene, if you want to play a type of music that doesn’t have drums that is fully acoustic, there is sort of this formula in bluegrass that is fun and infectious and ‘dancy’ and feels like a complement to what’s happening in music in general. Not having drums and exploring that in general has been extremely fun for me. We feel there’s an inherent infectiousness to this music, and that people still like it.” 

Everyone in the band agreed that Billy Strings’ arrival on the bluegrass scene couldn’t have come at a better time.

“The last time bluegrass was in prime time was the Beverly Hillbillies back in the 60s,” said Laniakea, referring to Flatt & Scruggs. 

“He’s at electronic festivals – people really like him,” Schulz said. “He’s perfect for the Grateful Dead crowd that he plays for. He’s just so good for bluegrass.”

Fog Holler is building their own bluegrass legacy. They’ve shared a stage with Ricky Skaggs. They’ve warmed up for Del McCoury and the Watkins Family. 

This is the view from the Bluegrass Standard: “To say that Fog Holler is mysterious is apropos, and ambiguous explanations work fine …but their love of Bluegrass and traditional American music is no mystery. Promoting themselves as ‘a spectral band that channel the spirits of bluegrass past and future’ has brought Fog Holler to the forefront of the San Francisco Bay scene and beyond.”