IROQUOIS – There’s only one place to be June 14-16: at the Point in Iroquois taking in some of the finest bluegrass music north or south of the border.
Organizers of the Galop Canal Bluegrass Festival 2018, are bringing a stellar line-up to the stage, with two American bluegrass bands, two local bands, two country bands and eight great Ontario bluegrass bands performing over three days.
The American headliners are Dreamcatcher, still relatively new to the bluegrass scene, but swiftly winning extensive critical and fan acclaim and Beartracks a renowned band featuring traditional bluegrass music coupled with beautiful harmonies.
I talked to Tom Venne of Beartracks about the band and their music.
Venne is a musical veteran. Raised playing country, he eventually shifted over to bluegrass along with fellow performers Julie Hogan, Harry Ralph and Steve Light, the members of Beartracks. He credits the late, legendary Junior Barber with convincing them all to make that change to bluegrass.
“Bluegrass is very much a North American style of music, although there is also a strong Celtic influence too,” Venne said. “Bluegrass does a lot of story telling, presents a slice of real life set to music. The instrumentation makes it unique too, with the banjos, the fiddles, the mandolins.
The funny thing is that bluegrass songs can talk about the most terrible things, murder and violence – think about “Banks of the Ohio” where a man kills a girl because she won’t marry him – but,” he added, laughing, “the melodies in these songs are incredibly beautiful and lilting.”
Venne called bluegrass the true music of the people. “This music has the ability to stir powerful memories for people. It’s music that can break through into a person’s heart.”
Beartracks has often been applauded for its unique sound.
“We still do traditional bluegrass,” Venne explained. “But then we’ll also “bluegrass” (yes, he used it as a verb) musicians like Dylan or Stevie Nicks. We’ll do Cajun songs or Waylon Jennings, even Eric Clapton. The point is that we’ll do these songs in the bluegrass style (staying) faithful to the traditional sounds.”
He and sister Julie have been harmonizing together since they first performed in their parents’ travelling country band. Their vocals are rich, powerful. And all the band members are talented instrumentalists.
Venne is looking forward to coming to Canada, to the Galop Canal Festival.
“I love Canadian fans. They’re much less judgmental, much more willing to listen to something that may be a bit non-traditional.
The fact is, all bluegrass fans really listen to your songs. They’ll sit through downpour and heat because they love this music.”
Also excited about coming to Canada and the Galop Canal Bluegrass Festival are members of the band, Dreamcatcher.
As spokesman Aaron “Frosty” Foster said, “This is our first Canadian show. We live for going to new places and experiencing new cultures, working with new audiences.”
However he also pointed out that the bluegrass “community” is everywhere.
“You might see styles of fiddling change from one region to another, or changes in banjo playing, but bluegrass music shares common roots. It always draws musicians together.”
Although Dreamcatcher is made up of young artists, their love of bluegrass goes deep.
“This is the music played on porches, at square dances and family gathering,” Foster explained. “We see bluegrass as a kind of melting pot of music. If you listen closely there are elements of swing, country, blues, even a kind of jazz influence in the music. Frankly, it’s impossible to listen to bluegrass without a smile on your face, or tapping your toes. It continually attracts new audiences across generations.”
Dreamcatcher is a young band. “We’ve always put our own spin on traditional bluegrass. We have a deep appreciation for the roots of bluegrass and the traditions of the music, but Dreamcatcher might play solos differently. We might put a jazzy sound to the traditional chords.”
Foster and original founding member Troy Boone both came out of the Old Time, Bluegrass and Country Music Studies programs at East Tennessee State University.
“We loved the traditions of bluegrass,” Foster said. “We immersed ourselves in the classic bluegrass recordings on file at the University. People like Flatt & Scruggs, they’re our heroes.”
Foster feels that many people do have certain expectations about bluegrass music and “we don’t want to scare them away. However, I’d say we are thoughtful about how we present the music we play. Yet we are still willing to step a little off the shelf. You might,” he added laughing, “call Dreamcatcher a bit of a remastered, or edited version of some of the classic sounds of bluegrass.”
As their own musical reputation grows among critics and fans, Foster says that bluegrass music is connecting with new generations of young people. “They seek each other out after concerts, sitting down, jamming together, and they keep pushing the boundaries of blue grass. Bluegrass music is catchy, powerful, and it gets people involved.”
Join Beartracks and Dreamcatcher and some of the best bluegrass (and country) bands in North America at the Galop Canal Bluegrass Festival, June 14-16, taking place at Iroquois Point. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org