For the last two years, Katie Jo & The Mijos continue to specialize in a sound that they lovingly refer to as bluegrass-infused California country with a Kansas kick. Based out of Long Beach and led by native Kansan, Katie Jo Oberthaler, Katie Jo & The Mijos are taking their two-step vibe to The Pike in Long Beach on Saturday, March 10 to celebrate the release of their debut EP, Prairie Flower.
Oberthaler is arguably a late bloomer, and shares that she fell in love with the banjo in her early twenties at a bluegrass festival on the great plains. Experiencing her first real taste of bluegrass music, she found herself entranced with string bands and rousing from the back of a pickup truck to listen to campground jam sessions. From there she traveled east to a tiny coal town in West Virginia, where she gained authentic advice and training from an Appalachian banjo player.
“I studied banjo with a local man in the community named Ron Tolliver, who had been playing banjo since he was a child. He really showed me ropes of five-string banjo and brought me to community jams in the hills of the area,” Oberthaler said.
During her time on the East Coast she also saw living bluegrass legend Del McCoury, which eventually inspired her to write the boot-stomping lead track off Prairie Flower, “All My Money’s on the Highway.” The song reflects Oberthaler’s quirky and charming lyrical abilities, and tells the story of a long-distance relationship in Southern California through the lens of a Midwesterner – with long-distance translating to ten grueling miles on the 405 Freeway.
After living in Sothern California for the last seven years, the banjo-ista considers Long Beach her home away from home. She also feels that the upcoming gig at The Pike is an ideal launching point for the group’s EP, which moves between rowdy, bluegrass rippers to warmhearted ballads with a classic country feel.
“Since these are our very first recordings, I definitely wanted to showcase a range of styles in both the band’s sound and my approach to songwriting. I’m a words-first person, so I chose the four songs that I felt had both the strongest lyrical content and most appealing full-band sound,” Oberthaler said. “We originally wanted to create this EP simply as a tool for booking different types of gigs, but it really morphed into a ‘starter pack’ to our live sound.”
Katie Jo & The Mijos have played gigs throughout the southland leading up to their EP release, hitting honky-tonk friendly venues from LA to south OC. Throughout their journey as a blossoming bluegrass-inspired country band, they’ve aligned with musicians that helped shape their sound and carve out a path in the niche music scene. One of their supporters stuck around to become a member and mentor to the group, seasoned banjoist Andy Rau, who’s joined by the rest of the Mijo crew comprised of Billy Camacho on electric guitar, George Madrid on pedal steel, Daniel Chavez on bass and Nick Medina on drums.
The group also found support from Sean Blake and Shea Newkirk of Brother Pine, the latter of which was a founder of the now defunct (and missed) Long Beach Folk Revival Festival. Picking up further support from the likes of Mike Maddux of The Ponderosa Aces and more, Oberthaler slyly shares that she couldn’t let the boys have all the fun.
“Although these genres are largely male-dominated, seeing my male peers and mentors in the local scene find a path to success and be so willing to pass on their advice to me has made me even more confident about playing this style of music with my own perspective,” Oberthaler said.
“There’s obviously strong women in the scene, and I’m hoping to add to that. We want to get people dancing and two-stepping, we’re not your traditional bluegrass band.”
If there’s music or art involved, she’ll take a chance on it.