Grassland String Band
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Grassland String Band

Athens, Georgia, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2013 | SELF

Athens, Georgia, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2013
Band Americana Bluegrass





Grassland String Band’s origin story is refreshingly simple. At a bluegrass jam session on Athens’ Eastside in 2012, banjo player Jody Daniels was introduced to a young mandolin player and singer brimming with talent and energy.

“At the end of that evening, I asked him who he was and who he played with,” says Daniels. “And the answer was, ‘I’m Michael Lesousky, and I'm kind of new here.’ And [that] was the beginning of a friendship, and the birth of Grassland String Band.”

The bond between the twentysomething Lesousky and sexagenarian Daniels is as unconventional as Grassland String Band’s music, which uses acoustic traditionalism as its base but adds elements of pop, rock and gospel to create a composite sound that caters to old-school purists and music-fest millennials alike.

The group’s six members vary in terms of age, background and experience. Guitarist Kevin Fleming is classically trained, while Daniels learned banjo later in life. Fiddler Adam Poulin has honed his chops by gigging steadily with seemingly everyone in town. The band revolves around Lesousky, a singer-songwriter with a soulful wail, and the rhythm section of drummer Todd Ferguson and bassist Nathan Elder employs a jazz-like grasp of dynamics to round out the sound.

After releasing a 2014 full-length, Before the Feast, the group holed up in an Asheville, NC studio during a snowstorm to record a four-song EP, The Echo Mountain Sessions. The storm “[forced] the engineer and support staff to live in-studio for the weekend, only [adding] to the experience,” says Ferguson. The EP, recorded live in two days, radiates familial warmth, from poignant opener “American Flag” to single “Give Me a Reason,” slow jam “Diamond” and rollicking closer “Boom Boom.”

The Echo Mountain Sessions reflects Grassland’s continued evolution, as Lesousky’s probing folk tunes and Daniels’ spirited anthems have both become rounder and more inclusive.

“The style shift was just a natural progression into the deeper realms of the heart and mind,” says Lesousky. ”I’ve grown a lot personally [and] as a songwriter, and the band grew over the past three years… I think that allowed us to tread into territories that had more meaning and to be comfortable with leaving the trappings of bluegrass and the conventional songwriting devices.”

The group’s process is deliberate, Lesousky adds. “We tinker with [a song] until it's right. We usually don't settle on an arrangement for months. We make sure the feel of the song fits the story and emotion we want to evoke.”

Though this level of professionalism may be at odds with Athens’ prevailing punk ethos, Grassland String Band has amassed a sizable local fan base of folks who might not otherwise find themselves downtown on a Friday night. From the beginning, says Daniels, “we were all over the spectrum in terms of musical influences and in our ages, [and] that diversity seemed to widen our appeal. We could look out at an audience and see young and old and every manner of cultures.”

In addition to the new Grassland EP, Lesousky released a seven-track solo album earlier this month. Deep Shade of Blue is country-tinged, featuring only voice and guitar. In contrast to his band’s intensive creative approach, Lesousky’s solo record is nakedly direct. “These songs are expressly raw and immediate,” he says. “I recorded them [at] a demo session and decided that ‘good enough’ was good enough.”

Grassland String Band is busy in general, and extremely so this week. The band will play twice—an unofficial Wildwood Revival kickoff Thursday and an EP-release show Saturday—and Lesousky will celebrate Deep Shade of Blue Sunday with a performance at The World Famous. Look for each show to offer something a little different.

“The mystery is the fun part of it all,” says Lesousky. “We usually don't know exactly what we are gonna do until we are doing it. I like it that way.” - Flagpole Magazine

"Grassland String Band’s “Before the Feast”: a review by Ansley Rushing"

Grassland String Band is a fine example of the recent uprising of acoustic Americana music. They’re cleaner than Old Crow Medicine show, less polished than the Punch Brothers. They’re less traditional than the Steep Canyon Rangers, but moreso than the Avett Brothers. Basically, they fit nicely in the middle of the folk/bluegrass spectrum right around Tramples By Turtles and not far from The Infamous Stringdusters. There’s not much that you couldn’t hear at a good southern bluegrass festival most summer weekends, but at the same time, there’s not a single song that won’t have you stomping your feet or clapping your hands.

It’s quite obvious that each of these musicians is ridiculously talented. You have to be to play this kind of music because there is nothing to hide behind. It’s raw and pure. The recording definitely does justice to that. The banjo picking is fast, the vocals are tight, and the fiddle is enthusiastic.

The opening track “Clara” gets everything off to a toe-tapping start. I can imagine the audience at a show dancing along to this one and cheering for each of the solos in the interludes. The a cappella sections and the multi-part harmonies are so full and powerful. I don’t know who this girl Clara is, but she ought to be really impressed by this song, especially the dynamic violin melodies and the sweet lyrics.

Another one of my favorites is “Honey,” another simple love song complemented by the violin solos. It almost feels like the violin is having a conversation with the singer. Like an old Beatles song, it’s very short and sweet and it leaves you wanting more. Great production.

“If I Die” grabs your attention right away with the gritty vocals and the harsh instrumental stops right out of the gate. I love the lines “I’m so old/I’m so young/I wonder when my heart will let go of my tongue.” The shouts, the high notes at the end, and the exciting banjo line in the chorus make the song so much fun. But at under two minutes, I wish there were more!

“Driving This Car” features a female vocalist and a much slower tempo than the rest of the album. It’s a lovely song and is well performed, but it doesn’t feel like it fits in the context of the rest of the songs. Maybe if she sang some more high harmonies on the other songs it wouldn’t feel out of place. But it was a nice surprise to hear a different voice in the mix, and she brings a lot of interesting melodies to table.

Overall, “Before The Feast” is a really solid album that really reflects a lot of the folk music that’s so popular right now. They could play at a bluegrass festival, a country bar or a rock club and make everyone happy with their high level of talent and energy. Go see them live at their upcoming shows in Athens, Ga. and make sure to look out for this album. You won’t want to miss it.

(Ansley Rushing is a 2012 Magna Cum Laude graduate of the University of Georgia Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication with a degree in Public Relations. She also participated in the UGA Music Business Program in the Terry College of Business and served an internship with Paste Magazine, a nationally recognized leader in entertainment news. Ansley is a classically trained violinist and an Athens, GA based singer/songwriter - Ansley Rushing

"GSB was thrilled to meet Mike Mills of REM"

GSB was thrilled to meet Mike Mills of REM, who dropped in for our Friday night Athfest performance (New Earth Music Hall)! - GSB

"GSB Announces CD Release Party"

GSB is excited to announce we will be holding our CD release party at The Melting Point on August 30, 2014. The critically acclaimed band Humming House (Nashville) will be joing us! All ages are welcome. Show starts at 9 PM. - GSB

"GSB to perform at Team Kirk Event"

If you’ve been in Athens these past few months, chances are one day you peered up from behind your steering wheel and saw the bumper sticker. You know the ones: white ovals with bold black text inside. "OBX" for North Carolina’s Outer Banks. "NYC" for, well, NYC. But this was one you hadn’t seen before: "TK."

“My friends thought it was some kind of athletic team. I’m slightly embarrassed by the whole thing,” says Kirk Smith, the man who inspired Team Kirk’s beginnings after being diagnosed with stage-three lung cancer the day after Christmas last year.

It’s hard to say exactly what Team Kirk is. It doesn't have an office, and no one is officially in charge. The group raises money for the Cancer Center of Northeast Georgia by putting on events—like a party at the Jittery Joe’s roaster in April, where organizers offered beer, food and entertainment. At that event, they raised nearly $10,000 for the Cancer Center, which helps patients with basic living expenses, such as rent, utilities and food.

Monday, June 9, they will hold a benefit concert at the Georgia Theatre, featuring music from Rob Nance and the Lost Souls, Jim Avett (the patriarch of the now-famous Avett family) and locals Grassland String Band. The concert starts at 6:45 p.m. and will also benefit the Cancer Center.

Smith is a native Athenian and an active member of the community, an avid runner and playful sort who chose the motto “Live Goofy” for the Livestrong-inspired wristbands Team Kirk has provided for friends and family to wear in solidarity. Strong and compact, with slightly graying, close-cropped hair, he has an air of calm confidence and matter-of-fact pragmatism, captured by another of the maxims he has taken to repeating: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

Smith is no stranger to concise, persuasive language; his father founded The Adsmith, an advertising and design agency located on Milledge Avenue. Smith now runs it, and his wife, Jayne, works for UGA. Being financially stable, when the diagnosis came, Smith and Jayne knew they wanted to do something to address and acknowledge it, but they didn’t want or feel the need to ask for help themselves.

“We didn’t want it to be, 'Team Kirk with his hand out',” Smith says.

Being faced with something so big and frightening can be difficult for friends and family, who want to help but don’t know what to do, they say. Though Smith expresses embarrassment about being the center of attention, Jayne points out that having a cause to rally around has been helpful for loved ones.

“We have several friends who have lost husbands to cancer,” she says. “They said, ‘Help [other people] out by giving them something to do.’ That was helpful to hear right up front. I wouldn’t have thought about that.”

In addition to support from friends and musicians like Jody Daniels of Grassland String Band, who Smith says has been instrumental in planning the group's events, Team Kirk has also seen support from Terrapin, Mama’s Boy and the Oconee Veterinary Hospital, and other friends have stepped in to help with organization and logistics along the way.

“It’s very significant to have an organization come to you and do it all, and all you have to do is help promote them,” says Kimberly Liebowitz, director of the Cancer Center. “We are so lucky that, in the face of Kirk’s illness, they chose to help other people.” Liebowitz says the Cancer Center gave $160,000 last year to local cancer patients—the money is especially helpful in the hot summer months, when utility bills climb and strain already struggling families.

Smith, Jayne, Daniels and the rest of Team Kirk’s loose coterie aren’t sure what they’ll do after the Georgia Theatre event. For now, they are focused simply on making sure it’s a good time.

“I want to make sure people don’t come to an event wringing their hands,” Smith says. Indeed, all along, Team Kirk has emphasized the celebratory over the somber, which is perhaps part of the reason the initial fundraiser was such a success.

Now, that success is looming in Smith’s mind. “We may have 400 people that come in and pay the $10 suggested donation," at Monday's event, he says. "That’s only $4,000."

Of course, that amount is nothing to sneeze at. Combined with the proceeds of Team Kirk’s first event, it would equal nearly 9 percent of the amount the Cancer Center furnished to cancer patients last year.

And there is still a more personal battle to fight. With the support of friends and family, Smith continues to combat his own disease. Still, he says, he feels like one of the lucky ones. "Go sit in the lobby of a cancer center," he says. "It’s pretty powerful stuff. I don’t really know how some people deal with it. It shines a light on those things."

To learn more about Team Kirk or stay up to date on what the group is up to, visit

WHO: Rob Nance and the Lost Souls, Jim Avett, Grassland String Band
WHERE: Georgia Theatre
WHEN: Monday, June 9, 6 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $10 (suggested donation) - Flagpole Magazine


  1. The Echo Mountain Sessions - 4-track EP - Releases August 26, 2016
  2. Cold Blooded, Bleeding Heart - Live Album - Released Winter 2016
  3. Before the Feast - Debut Album - Released 2014
  4. Dreamers - Released March 2018
  5. Heartache & Driftin' - Released November 2019
Grassland String Band's Discography is available for purchase on iTunes:



Grassland String Band: The Face of Americana 

Bluegrass was only the beginning.

Grassland began their journey in late 2012.  Beginning as a bluegrass duo, then soon after as a trio with a drummer, the pieces began to fall into place and Grassland String Band was born. A few years later, the band had grown into a multi-generational six-piece band that boasted members with master’s degrees in classical organ and guitar and a jazz-folk-pop and bluegrass influenced, improvisational live performance style -a hybrid the group called Amerigrass.

You would never have put together a band like this using a formula.

In the summer of 2014, GSB’s debut album Before the Feast was released and quickly brought attention to the band.  The album was a first glimpse into the group’s palpable chemistry, strong songwriting and virtuosic musicianship. In 2015, a live performance from the EOP Red Clay Music Foundry (Duluth, Ga) was successfully released as their 2nd album.  Clearly the band was in control of its unique sound and headed to success.  Shows during that time included a performance at the Ted, the Atlanta Braves former stadium.

In the fall of 2016, the band released the Echo Mountain Sessions EP, recorded during an epic January snowstorm in Asheville.  The album, named after the famed studio in which the recording took place, elevated the band to yet another level in its journey.  The EP received much praise and recognition from noteworthy media outlets including NPR Atlanta, Stomp & Stammer, Flagpole Magazine, and the Alternate Root (Calif.)

In 2018 and 2019, the band released singles “Dreamers” and “Heartache and Drifting”.  Dreamers debuted at number 4 on the Alternate Root’s list of top ten songs and was used by NPR Atlanta in a piece they aired about the struggles faced by DACA youth.  The band is currently recording their next EP to be released later this year.

At live shows, every element of the band is turned up to eleven. This is not a show you’ll see fans chatting through. The crowd yells “woo”s of encouragement. They slap their thighs. They sing along. They dance. The band’s chemistry positively fills the room as they grin their way through the set, extending some of their tracks into improvised jams. Sometimes it looks a little like bluegrass.  Sure, it has a banjo, a fiddle and a mandolin on occasion.  But there is the electric guitar and a drum kit.  It’s jazzy, bluesy, soulful, country and rock.  It’s something much more, something modern and amorphous. It’s music that crosses generations, crosses genres, and will cross your soul. It just happens.

Grassland is:  Jody Daniels, banjo, guitar, mandolin;  Bo Hembree, Guitar; Todd Ferguson, Drums; Adam Poulin, Fiddle, Guitar;  Given Arnold, Bass;  Leanne Daniels, acoustic guitar, vocals;  Jason Badia, guitar, mandolin.

Contact Grassland String Band at:

Band Members