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The Bluegrass Patriots

Established 1980

Bluegrass Patriots Photo, 2003
Patriots at the Rialto Theater 2008. (L to R: Dan Mitchell, Danny Rogers, Willie McDonald, Glenn Zankey, Ken Seaman. Photo Courtesy of Rex Anderson.)

"They" are the Bluegrass Patriots, one of the very, very few working bands in the bluegrass world to have testimony from the father himself. In history and tradition, for 30 years the Bluegrass Patriots, from Fort Collins, Colorado, have faithfully represented the unbroken circle that is bluegrass. But longevity is a reward reserved for those bands with the talent, drive, and class to sustain the highest levels of musicianship and entertainment. And like an old instrument, their sounds have grown sweeter through the years. Present as always in their show are the stunning lead and harmony vocals by all five members, the bluesy and punchy picking, well-penned originals, and folksy charm on stage. Slowed, they have not. Try to catch them if you can in ’10 somewhere between California and Ireland.

Excepting the addition Dan Mitchell on fiddle and guitar in 2003, upon the too-soon passing of dobroist "Ranger" Rick Bradstreet, the Patriots have maintained the same lineup for the entire span of their band’s history. That’s bluegrass patriotism, right there. The band responds with a collective shoulder shrug when asked how they’ve been able to keep the band together so long, as though they hadn’t noticed. Mandolinist Willie McDonald says, "no one ever moved away." Guitarist Glenn Zankey adds, "More so than anything, what will keep any band together is to have success."

The success they’ve enjoyed has included six critically acclaimed recording projects, including releases on Copper Creek and Turquoise record labels. The band has toured all across the continent, from Alaska to Arizona, Nova Scotia to Florida.They've graced the covers of Bluegrass Unlimited and Banjo Newsletter. They've performed for Senator John Glenn, as well as former president Gerald Ford. They’ve played festivals in Denmark, Ireland, Sweden and the British Isles, as well as most of the major festivals in the U.S., including Grass Valley, and the Minnesota Old-Time and Bluegrass festival, where they remain perennial crowd favorites.

The band originally came together as most bands do, just some guys wanting to pick a bit. It was in the late 1970’s. Ken Seaman, banjo, had recently relocated to Fort Collins from Missouri and knew Danny Rogers, bass, from the weekly jam Danny held at his bar, the Town Pump. Willie McDonald, mandolin and Glenn Zankey, guitar, had already been playing in a bluegrass band that wanted to move to California, but Willie and Glenn did not. The initial blend of voices, instrumental firepower, and flair for great material proved to be a winning combination, capable of great sustain through the years. The newest member of the band, Dan Mitchell had been a friend and pickin’ partner of the Patriots for the last 25 years, in addition to playing with numerous other Front Range bluegrass bands, including the late Charles Sawtelle’s band, the Whippets.

Although they admit to thinking about retiring, Seaman quips in his Ozark accent, "then some good gigs come in for the summer that everyone wants to do, and we all just jump back in the van." Here’s hoping the Patriots keep on jumping in that van for another couple of decades.

--Mike Finders