I’ve never been a person that really got into bluegrass music. While I could appreciate the musicianship, the overall package wasn’t my cup of tea. When I received a ticket for Friday night’s performance by The Slocan Ramblers, one may have thought that it would be wasted on the likes of me. I’m pleased to report that it was not.
The Slocan Ramblers were Juno nominated for their latest album Queen City Jubilee, in 2019. The band, Frank Evans on banjo, Adrian Gross on mandolin, Darryl Poulsen on guitar and Alastair Whitehead on bass, played a solid two sets of original songs, traditional numbers and Dustbowl classics.
All of these guys are stellar musicians. Not a note, and there were many of them, was out of place, nor did they overplay. Mandolin player Adrian Gross, in particular, was a revelation. His fretwork was dazzling, and his solos didn’t rely on a tried and true bag of licks. Late in the show, he talked about his early days as a musician.
He recounted the tale of watching Sean Penn in Sweet and Lowdown, in which Penn played a troubled jazz musician. Not realizing that Penn’s character was fictional, Gross went looking for his albums at a record store. The clerk let him know that what he was looking for didn’t exist, but that if he liked that, then he would probably like Django Reinhardt. Gross bought the record and listened and learned from it. This guy got into Django at 11 years old. Now it ALL made sense to me!
From the old classic Groundhog, to a deep cut cover of Tom Petty’s The Apartment Song, to songs from their two albums, the show was a dizzying display of great musicianship. It was also a night of a great education in the history of bluegrass, and songs that had everyone cheering, singing and stomping along.
It turns out I may have been a bluegrass fan all along. I just needed to see it live, and in the right hands. I highly recommend catching The Slocan Ramblers next time they make their way through town. Whether or not you become a bluegrass fan depends more on you. However, you will undoubtedly become a Slocan Ramblers fan.