Like many Boston-area bands these days, True Life Bluegrass got our start at an event honoring Joe Val. Unlike some of the more recent area bands, though, True Life Bluegrass is composed of current, former, and charter board members of the Boston Bluegrass Union (BBU), the organization that produces the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival. In fact, our debut performance was at the very first event ever held to honor and support Joe, a fundraiser held shortly before he passed away in 1985. The core of the original band (Ellen, Steve, and Eric) has been together ever since, and Steve's son Tony re-joined the band when he returned to Cambridge in 2010. Recently, we've also been fortunate to have the assistance of Laura Orshaw on fiddle and Michael Bean on resophonic guitar (aka dobro).

True Life Bluegrass has been a mainstay in the Boston-area bluegrass scene for over 30 years, and we are the longest-running band to play at the Cantab Lounge in Central Square in Cambridge on their Tuesday bluegrass nights. And though we played our first show in 1985, we have bluegrass roots in the Boston area that pre-date that show by nearly two decades. Steve Watt (banjo and mandolin) has been playing bluegrass in the Boston area since he moved to Cambridge in the mid-60's. Eric Levenson (bass) has been playing in the area for nearly as long, most notably touring the world with Joe Val's band, The New England Bluegrass Boys.

Boston's lively acoustic music scene has allowed us to play with many of the most talented bluegrass musicians to spend time here, a number of whom honed their talents with us before going on to success in the wider bluegrass world. We have been honored to provide a nurturing environment for many up-and-coming musicians, and are proud to present our brand of traditional bluegrass to audiences and fellow musicians alike. Our music is steeped in the traditions of bluegrass, though we wander outside those traditions when we find newer songs that express the real experiences of ordinary people (as we call them, songs of true life).

Exciting news!

After a mere 32 years of playing together, one of the most venerable bluegrass bands in the Boston area will release our first CD, It's a True Life. We'll be holding our CD Release Party on September 13 at Passim in Harvard Square.

We've selected 14 of the songs that best represent our band in terms of vocal and instrumental variety; it's music that we think, in the words of one of those songs, "makes the world a better place". Mike Reese (of Chasing Blue) recorded and mixed the record. We are very excited and pleased to have the chance to capture the sound of the band performing some of our favorite songs from the past three decades, and can't wait to share it with everybody!


Who we are

True Life Bluegrass consists of:

  • Steve Watt, banjo and mandolin
  • Ellen Hays, guitar
  • Eric Levenson, bass
  • Tony Watt, mandolin and guitar
  • Laura Orshaw, fiddle
  • Michael Bean, dobr0