For the past two decades, Jason Dennie’s varied instrumental gifts and vocals have enriched Michigan’s acoustic and roots music scene in many ways.
Dennie grew up with a father who loved Bluegrass and Country Music, and Grandparents who had a family Bluegrass Gospel group, the Scott County Quartet. His Grandfather, Willard Duncan, had a strong tenor and ‘picked it like Lester’, playing his Martin with a thumbpick and finger pick on his index finger. Through Willard’s love and respect for the music over the years, family connections to Bill Monroe (The Father of Bluegrass) and Jimmy Martin (The King of Bluegrass) developed and opened doors to many stories, and an Uncle and Cousin who ended up playing in Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys in the banjo spot over two different stints in Jimmy’s long history.
While that was on one side of the family, the high school years were spent listening to Led Zeppelin, Rush, and Iron Maiden, until the age of 19 finally found him picking up a guitar. The instant that happened, it all went back to acoustic music and the sounds of James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, CSN&Y and soon after, discoveries of Leo Kottke, Michael Hedges, and Alex Degrassi. And always, the music of Tony Rice…always.
Dennie cemented his name as both a side man in the Cincinnati area (earning accolades for his lead work with Noah Hunt, who went on to become lead vocalist for the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band), and as a solo acoustic guitarist opening for major artists (think Kansas, Arlo Guthrie, Janis Ian, David Wilcox, Sam Bush, Darrell Scott, Debbie Harry and the Jazz Passengers among many others). After winning multiple awards (think the Gamble Rogers Fingerstyle Championship) and 3 consecutive CAMMY Awards for Best Folk/Bluegrass Instrumentalist, a couple of small Midwest and East Coast tours as the opener for Over The Rhine, led to a broader audience and lending a hand in the move from Cincinnati to Ann Arbor, MI. Playing the Ark in 1997 while touring with Over the Rhine left a mark and living in Ann Arbor seemed like a logical choice. Marriage and raising a family led to sideman work and teaching in order to stay close to home. Today – now equally proficient on mandolin – he is one of the Mitten’s most sought-after musicians. His work with area luminaries including Annie and Rod Capps, Billy Brandt and the Sugarees, Jill Jack, STELLA, John Latini, Dave Boutette, and Chris Buhalis has led to 10 Detroit Music Award nominations.
But really, Dennie’s just getting started. After placing 2nd in the Telluride Bluegrass Festival Band Competition in 2011, he came to a realization.
“I suddenly knew just how much my family’s love of Bluegrass music meant to me,” he says. “I love every minute spent playing roots music and supporting other artists but I have so many original songs in my catalogue now, it’s time to let them fly.” His energy in recent years was focused on Thunderwüde, an acoustic trio that takes Dennie’s original melodies and songs and weaves them playfully through guitar, mandolin/fiddle and upright bass. The band’s first record, Live at Logan Street Sanctuary, was released in November, 2018. A new project, Wilson Thicket (www.wilsonthicket.com), is a 4 piece Acoustic outfit focusing on bluegrass and songwriting, creative playful covers, and a wealth of tunes penned by both Jason and Aaron Markowitz. Check out the website www.wilsonthicket.com for more info! His work with Annie and Rod Capps, on mandolin and vocals, has continued for 17 years now and he has been deeply involved with arrangements on several acclaimed albums that have at times held #1, #2, and #3 spots on the Folk DJ Charts. A new Annie and Rod Capps record is being currently worked on for Summer 2023 release (annieandrodcapps.com for more!) Dennie also enjoys a thriving side project with long time partner—and renowned Michigan singer/songwriter—Rochelle Clark. The two often perform as a duo, or fronting a full band.
In addition to his musical life, Dennie is the proud father of two teenage daughters, loves graphic novels, and Halloween.