Singing the Blues in Flip-Flops

By Beacon Staff

The big guy rocks a flute onstage and wears flip flops outside in the winter.

And now he has the blues.

Trusten Williamson, who hosts his own acoustic night at Red’s Wines & Blues in Kalispell and is a member of the Good Wood Trio, has a stage presence as commanding as any in the Flathead. The 25-year-old Kalispell native, depending on the song or his mood, might growl out a blues tune with his soulfully gritty voice or whip out a flute and lay down a bluegrass melody. Maybe he’ll sit down with an acoustic guitar and get in touch with his folk roots.

“I’m constantly looking for something that’s a little different,” Williamson said.

Williamson himself is a little different. He’ll sport a lime green T-shirt along with his omnipresent flip flops when he’s playing a gig. Sometimes he’s altogether serious about his music and other times he’s more intent on making the audience laugh. Jokes are part of the show. He has burly sideburns and a contagious smile. He chuckles a lot.
“I’m doing something I’ve really wanted to do,” Williamson said, “which is sleep in, stay up late and get paid to play music.”

From the time Williamson first sprawled out on his living room floor as a kid listening to his parents’ records up until his current life as a professional musician, he said he has never allowed himself to be pigeonholed into genres or styles. He’s run quite the musical gamut, starting with saxophone in middle school band, followed by high school choir and then a stint with a “Dave Matthews Band rip-off” group for four years in his late teens and early twenties. He can play guitar, drums, saxophone, flute, harmonica – take your pick. A couple years before joining the Good Wood Trio, he was the lead singer of a cover band.

“Sadly,” Williamson said, “the greatest cover band ever was short-lived.”

At a young age, Williamson learned to play songs simply by listening, rather than by reading music. Today, when he steps onstage with the Good Wood Trio – which never practices together – he just listens for a few seconds if he doesn’t know the song.

“I feel you get connected to the stuff you’re playing a little more,” he said, “because you’re sitting down with it and getting into it instead of just looking at a piece of paper.”

The Good Wood Trio plays high-octane bluegrass, a totally new form of music for Williamson. But he has adapted masterfully, said Christian Johnson, the band’s leader and an original member of the Mission Mountain Wood Band. Anyone who can bring the flute to bluegrass, Johnson said, should be noticed.

“Trusten’s got such a great ear,” Johnson said. “Really everything he’s doing up there is out of his own creative brain – and he’s such a fine singer.”

Though he plays bluegrass with the Good Wood Trio, Williamson said in recent years he’s been increasingly drawn to the blues.

“When I found the blues,” he explained, “I found something my voice really connected to. The blues kind of took me in a different direction.”

The blues are taking him to Chicago in March. A band called Unicycle Loves You – an alternative rock band – awaits his arrival. With Unicycle, he said, music will play as big or bigger of a role in his life, but it won’t pay the Windy City bills. He’ll have to find a job other than music in an environment he knows nothing about. But the Kalispell boy who’s never lived in the big city is up for the challenge.

“There’s just so much happening in Chicago, man, that it’s almost impossible not to be creative out there,” Williamson said. “There’s a lot of positive energy as far as the music goes.”