The Dynamic Duo

The Good Time Travelers defy purists with an Americana all their own

By Josh Johson

When the guitar and mandolin duo known as The Good Time Travelers pulled into Kansas City for a string of guerilla shows during the Folk Alliance International conference, they soon discovered Black Sabbath was in town.

At that very moment, Kansas City was the focal point of folk worldwide. But, defying all folk picker stereotypes, and without deliberation, Michael Kirkpatrick and Pete Kartsounes instead bought tickets to witness the glorious origins of heavy metal in all its wicked pageantry. And it was good.

This decision should come as no surprise to anyone who’s followed the musical journeys these two have taken. Both have the writing chops, musical acumen, and industry connections to follow a well-worn path to success in bluegrass or folk music, genres they incorporate in all they do. But genre adherence, and the dogma of its followers, goes against the truth of their musical eclecticism, which includes a love of Black Sabbath.

“We’re not doing what we’re doing to please anybody,” Pete says. This attitude of following your personal muse wherever she leads seems to be the tie that binds them as The Good Time Travelers.

When Pete and Michael met at an all-night, epic jam during the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2013, both fronted their own bands, Pete Kartsounes Band and The Holler!, respectively. Both of these bands played versions of jamgrass that had no trouble finding audiences or gigs, and both bands permitted the artists the creative freedom to explore all avenues of rock, folk, funk, Americana — you name it. Why start something new?

Yet those who witnessed the two playing together in the park that night insisted that this shouldn’t end there. There was something worth pursuing in the combination of Michael’s low, rich vocals and Pete’s higher, grittier voice, in the seamless blend of Michael’s mandolin picking and Pete’s adept guitar work. Despite a lack of desire to please people, Pete says, “Audience feedback is what has encouraged us.” And perhaps the two recognized in each other a willingness to explore music without boundaries.   

The duo got together for a writing session in a loaned cabin just below Mt. Princeton in July 2014. Before they had a chance to take off their shoes, they had three songs written, all of which appear on their self-titled debut, which surprisingly subverts the rock elements for a more traditional sound, which they credit to their surroundings.

Despite both musicians being bandleaders, they manage to be diplomatic when writing together. Lyrics and music are always workshopped together, and each have veto power. When one idea gets shot down, Michael says, “Your impulse is to sell the idea. But we shelve it with the idea that the universe is going to give us something better.”

The Good Time Travelers made their live debut at the Oriental Theater in December 2014, opening for bluegrass legends Del McCoury and David Grisman, and earned a standing ovation. Since then, they’ve toured extensively, crossing all assumed demographic boundaries. When you make unapologetic music that speaks with authenticity rather than mimicry, people respond.

As for an album of Black Sabbath bluegrass covers, don’t hold your breath, though they do a sweet cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California.” “We could probably do a whole record of Zep covers,” says Pete. Still, Michael thinks the Colorado bluegrass scene could be a bit too “happy-happy, boing-boing” sometimes.

“I try and bring more of the dark art into the bluegrass genre,” he says. “I think Colorado could use a little more of the dark arts.”

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