Tag Archives: The Slocan Ramblers

Interview Preview with The Slocan Ramblers

The Slocan Ramblers — Frank Evans on banjo, Adrian Gross on mandolin, Darryl Poulsen on guitar and Alastair Whitehead on bass — are consistently described as one of Canada’s up-and-coming bluegrass acts to watch. We wondered how they got their start, their musical taste, and how they go about writing their tunes. Whitehead of the Toronto based group answered some of these questions for us prior to their visit to Edmonton.

The Slocan Ramblers had a whirlwind start, practically booking an opening gig before you even had played together. What prompted the formation of the band in the first place?

Yea, it’s funny to think back on it now. Adrian and I (Alastair) were living together while at music school, Darryl, Adrian, and I had started jamming at our apartment, and had bonded over our mutual enthusiasm for bluegrass and folk music, something not all that common for a few jazz school guys. I had met Frank at work and heard he was a great banjo player. We upgraded our jams to the garage to make room for him. The four of us hit it off both musically and socially pretty much from the get go. We were offered a gig before we had even really decided to be a band let alone chose a name. It went really well, and we were offered a monthly gig, then a weekly gig. Eventually we made our first album, started touring, and now it seems to be a full time occupation. We’ve definitely been really lucky with how it has all worked out.dsc_0121


How did you guys become a bluegrass band given the diverse musical backgrounds of each of the members as individuals?

We all got to bluegrass in our own separate ways, and perhaps for different reasons, but I think we can agree that our love of the music was solidified by the very vibrant bluegrass scene in Toronto. We get asked a lot how a bunch of young guys in Toronto got interested in bluegrass, the truth a lot of people don’t know is that there is a world class bluegrass scene in Toronto, with top notch bands almost every night of the week. Bluegrass is definitely a music best appreciated in a live setting. Having such a wealth of live bluegrass in Toronto was always a great source of inspiration.

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A lot of your interviews mention the Foggy Hogtown Boys — how has this group has influenced your group?

As I mentioned before, Toronto is a great city for bluegrass with weekly gigs on almost every night of the week. One of the longest running and best known of those shows was the High Lonesome Wednesdays at the Silver Dollar Room. It ran for almost 20 years and was a major institution in Toronto, not just for bluegrass fans but all kinds of folks from all walks of life. For the majority of the High Lonesome Wednesdays existence, the Foggy Hogtown Boys, a well known Canadian Bluegrass band were the entertainment, performing under the name Crazy Strings. We all used to go to that show regularly. The Foggy Hogtown Boys are a great band, and set the bar high. They were a great source of inspiration for us, and in many ways helped shape the sound of our band. We have gotten to know all of them over the years and they have really supported us. Chris Coole one of the groups co-founders was kind enough to produce our last album. A couple of the Slocan Ramblers also perform somewhat regularly with another Foggy Hogtown Boy John Showman. I think the Foggy Hogtown Boys really helped establish the Bluegrass scene in Toronto and inspired a whole bunch of younger aspiring musicians to get into the genre.


Some of your songs are written by you and some are traditional tunes — what does the process of writing a tune look like for The Slocan Ramblers?dsc_0105

We started playing bluegrass because we loved the genre. There’s a pretty rich repertoire of songs in the bluegrass canon, and the best way to learn the music is to learn as many of those songs, and listen to as many recordings as possible. We really took that to heart when the band first got going. I feel like we will always enjoy digging up old songs and finding ways to adapt them to our sound. However, as the group evolved from our bar band roots we definitely wanted to challenge ourselves and find a sound we could call our own. Writing original music seemed like the natural progression. We have all really embraced composition and song writing, and I feel it has definitely become a strength for the band. In terms of our writing process, I feel like it is still continually evolving. We still draw a lot from the traditional roots of the music, but we are also a lot more confident to stretch the boundaries and challenge our listeners. The process is pretty fluid and often different from tune to tune. We try not to self analyze too much.

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Reviews of your gigs constantly praise the vibrancy and excitement of your performance — how do you keep the enthusiasm levels of your shows high night after night on a tour?

Bluegrass is a really infectious and energetic music to begin with so that definitely works in our favour. It is also a music that is best enjoyed in a performance setting. Often people that had no idea they would enjoy bluegrass see the show and are total converts. There’s a lot of factors that play into it, the improvisational aspect of the music, the energy of playing live, the energy you get back from the crowd, when it all clicks it’s something really special. For me I think the biggest factor is that as a band we all still get along really well. I think the longevity of a band, and its success is largely based on whether or not the members still enjoy each others company after 5 years of touring, spending time together in the van, sleeping in hotels etc. Ultimately we all still get along really well, we still laugh at each others dumb jokes, and most importantly we are still inspired by each other musically. We all feel pretty lucky to be able to go on stage together every night and play our music for such great audiences, the energy seems to provide itself.

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There are couple opportunities in Edmonton to hear and/or be a part of this infectious and energetic music for yourself:

  • February 22th The Slocan Ramblers will be the backing band for Bluegrass Karaoke hosted by the Northern Bluegrass Circle Music Society (NBCMS) at Pleasantview Hall (10860 – 57 Ave Edmonton). Admission is $2 and homemade pie is $3.
  • February 24th The Slocan Ramblers play Edmonton’s New Moon Folk Club.  For ticket information please see New Moon’s website.

*The last time we saw The Slocan Ramblers was at the Edmonton Folk Fest in 2015, we searched our archives and found the in-text photos that accompany this interview.

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Review: Be Your Own Light

… There’s no doubt about it
there’s no doubt about it
there’s no doubt about it
you’ve got to be your own light …

The 2017 edition of Edmonton’s Winter Roots Roundup concluded with an encore featuring Linda McRae‘s “Be Your Own Light” at the Northern Lights Folk Club. Joining McRae on the stage for the encore and throughout the night offering their own voices, stories and songs were Dana Wylie (also the host of the evening) and Shawna Caspi. Caspi also played a short set the previous night at the New Moon Folk Club, before Catherine MacLellan (accompanied by Tim Leacock) took the stage for two sets of her own.

The conviction of McRae’s final song epitomized the whole weekend of women and song, and reminded me of how women, in particular, had to shine their own light. As Wylie pointed out women are often erased from historical stories. For an example Wylie used our lack of collective remembrance about Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (an active member of the I.W.W. and a founding member of the ACLU) after Caspi had sung Joe Hill’s “The Rebel Girl” which was written inspired by Flynn. Flynn fought for women’s rights, in an incredibly vocal way. How could such a significant figure disappear from our consciousness?

The Folkways catalogue includes more than protest songs, and so did the evening at the Northern Lights Folk Club, which began with Wylie’s own “Hallelujah Leonard Cohen Hallelujah”. While not from the Folkways catalogue McRae’s song “Singing River” could easily have been. Through the song McRae told the story of Te-lah-ney a Yuchi woman who spent 5 years walking from Oklahoma back to her birthplace in Alabama (to hear the songs of the Tennessee River) following the Indian Removal Act in 1830. Wylie dipped into the Canadiana portion of the Folkways collection leading us in an a capella version of “A Poor Lone Girl in Saskatchewan” originally sung by Anne Halderman; and by the song’s conclusion had us, much to our delight, shouting out the ending rhymes of Yellowknife and Bering Strait.

Aligning more with the protest and labour songs in the Folkways catalogue, Caspi’s “Not So Silent” brought forth the voices of crowds at both the Northern Lights and New Moon Folk Clubs. While MacLellan mixed her own songs like “The Long Way Home” and “The Raven’s Sun” with covers of her father’s work such as “Snowbird”, to tell us tales of homesickness, heartsickness and love. The genuineness of MacLellan’s songs shone through and like in McRae’s song MacLellan was definitely being her own light.

These four musicians shared songs that have shaped and reflected their understanding of the world. As McRae’s “Be Your Own Light” says:
… go out and make some noise when you find you’ve got no choice
put down your toys the world needs your voice
and it sure could use your light …

These women certainly have heeded McRae’s call and shared their voices and their light.

The Northern Lights Folk Club’s next show is a double bill with Karen Savoca & Pete Heitzman and the Shari Ulrich Trio on February 18th, while the New Moon Folk Club is back on February 24th with the Slocan Ramblers. Please see the folk club’s individual websites for more ticket details.

Edmonton Folk Fest 2015 Roundup

With so many options to choose from it was: 1. hard to see everything we wanted (Wish I Was There), 2. great to be surprised by discovering a new artist (New Discovery), and 3. sink into the magic of the workshop stage melting pot (Favourite Workshop). We’ve rounded up some thoughts while reflecting back on the weekend that was the 2015 Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

Wish I Was There

Twila: I abruptly abandoned some of my workshop attendance plans on Sunday afternoon due to the unrelenting fabulous weather (to quote an acquaintance I ran into earlier this week “Yeah, I was at Folk fest … I have the sunburn to prove it!”) I opted to find stages with shade. So rather than going to see the Globalization workshop on the always sunny Stage 2, I camped out in the shade and took in The Milk Carton Kids concert at Stage 3 and while I can’t regret the simultaneously hilarious and beautifully performed Milk Carton Kids concert, I do wish I had been able to see Danny Michel, Brian McNeill, Hanggai, Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson navigate a workshop stage under the rather broad term of Globalization.

Sable: I wished I could have seen that pre-mainstage magic go down with Brandi Carlisle, Matt Andersen, The Wind and the Wave, and Gregory Alan Isakov. I always love it when Folk Fest is able to slot one of their headliners into a late afternoon workshop session. Plus, Andersen was slaying it in session throughout the entire weekend. He led a bluesy Stand by Me on a Sunday afternoon and I found him to be the perfect musician to toss into the workshop mix.

 

 

New Discovery

Twila: Helene Blum & Harald Haugaard. These musicians are so incredibly talented that it is almost unreal! Blum’s voice has an impressive clear quality and her capacity to communicate the song’s story with the audience even when singing mostly in Danish to a predominately English speaking audience is outstanding. Likewise Haugaard’s ability to interact with the audience and other musicians on stage with his fiddle is extraordinary and seemingly effortless. Combine the two and they are unstoppable – the melodies and unfamiliar words they shared this past weekend have seeped into my subconscious, taken root and have left me with a strong desire to visit Denmark as soon as possible.

Sable: Hands downs, it was Braden Gates. It was a pleasure to hear his intuitive musical playing and lyrical sentiments paired perfectly with his acoustic guitar. I feel like he’s a wise voice singing to me from a youthful form. How is it that I’ve never heard of him all this time and he’s just from Ft. Sask Alberta!?! I will be keeping him on my local musician radar.

Favourite Workshop

Twila: Legacies Sunday on Stage 5. Brian McNeill, The Slocan Ramblers, Helene Blum and Harald Haugaard, Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson. Magic – there are no two ways about it. The almost instant amalgamation of these four musical groups into one massive ensemble with each group taking in turn the leadership role was absolute magic. It was an intense hour and a half – and I wish it was longer.

Sable: Transatlantic Crossing with The Milk Carton Kids, I’m With Her, Eddie Berman, and I Draw Slow was the best way to finish off my workshop streak on Sunday afternoon.I loved how Kenneth and Joey were recruiting different ladies from I’m With Her to fill out the top chords in their tight-knit harmonies. The perfect collaborative voice.

“Goodbye Folk Fest, see you next year!”

To quote the little kids who wandered past me as the final chord of “Four Strong Winds” echoed over Gallagher Park … “Goodbye Folk Fest, see you next year!”