When members of the bluegrass four-piece Mipso graduated from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, they didn’t have big plans. Then their debut album, Dark Holler Pop, rose to No. 8 on Billboard’s Bluegrass chart and changed all that.
A slow growth has turned the college band into a burgeoning staple on the Americana music scene, and its members, Jacob Sharp (mandolin and vocals), Joseph Terrell (guitar and vocals), Libby Rodenbough (fiddle and vocals), and Asheville resident Wood Robinson (bass and vocals), have enjoyed the rise. The group has released three records, including Coming Down the Mountain, which came out in March.
“We weren’t anticipating anything,” Sharp says of what’s happened in recent years. “We’re fortunate that a lot of our social community is musicians and a lot of them met at music school or at conservatories. They’ve been dreaming of what their first couple of years touring would be like. We started a band by accident and took it full time because it was the best job offer we had after graduating. We didn’t have this road map out in front of us — we just knew there was a road to get on.”
The road has sent the band across the United States with stops on festival bills and headlining gigs in hundreds of clubs. Now they get their first chance to shine at Brevard’s Mountain Song Festival, playing an ideal mid-afternoon slot on Saturday. The three-day event also includes festival founders/hometown stars Steep Canyon Rangers, four-decade bluegrass trailblazers Hot Rize, trending singer/songwriters Shannon Whitworth and Barrett Smith, and headlining veterans Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
Steep Canyon Rangers are a Grammy-winning bluegrass band who’ve recorded and traveled with Steve Martin and whose members live in Asheville and Brevard; they started the event in 2005 to help fund local charities at the request of guitarist/lead vocalist Woody Platt’s mother Cindy, who was already deeply involved in the community (after her death in 2013, the Cindy Platt Boys & Girls Club of Transylvania County, newly named in her honor, became the festival’s main beneficiary; to date the event has raised more than half a million dollars). “We’re excited about being a part of [the Steep Canyon Rangers’] party and adding our spin to it,” says Sharp, who grew up in Morganton and now lives in Brooklyn.
Mipso began as a trio that packed clubs in the Triangle area and eventually added frequent contributor Rodenbough as a full-time member. (They’ve joked that their name is a secret, but it has something to do with a term they learned during an early tour of Japan.) “We were all studying things well beyond music,” says Sharp. “As our friendships formed and we were looking at things we all had in common, it was a shared variety of music that is either from or taking root in North Carolina. We pulled together what we knew about bluegrass and old-time music and jazz and classic rock, and began writing songs.”
“We’ve been very interested in Mipso ever since they formed in Chapel Hill,” says Woody Platt. He calls their sound a “rootsy” mix, hearing pop as well as jazz and bluegrass. “They’re a great young band on a swift rise.”
Mipso plays the Mountain Song Festival at Brevard Music Center’s Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium 3:30-4:30pm on Saturday, September 9. The three-day event begins on Friday, September 8. Hot Rize headlines Friday at 8:30pm; The Steep Canyon Rangers headline Saturday at 8pm; The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band headlines Sunday at 5pm. See mountainsongfestival.com or tickets and more information.