The roots of bluegrass music go back to the old-time string bands popular in the 1920s and ’30s. Nowhere was the string band more popular or prolific than in the Appalachian mountains of the southeastern United States.
Back in those hills and hollers, it seemed as if just about everyone could play a fiddle tune or pick a mean banjo. Many of the original settlers in the region came from the Anglo-Scottish border country (along the border between England and Scotland) and the fiddle music they brought with them formed the basis of the old-time sound. Along the way, the banjo, guitar and mandolin got added in and old-time music was born.
By the late 1940s, a new genre of music had evolved, combining elements of the old string band music with gospel, the emerging country sound and African-American jazz. It sounded something like roots music in overdrive and ended up being named “Bluegrass Music” after originator Bill Monroe, who called his band The Bluegrass Boys.
Folks have been picking and singing bluegrass ever since and the mountains of Tennessee, the Carolinas and West Virginia remain at the epicentre of the music.
From its inception 15 years ago, the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival has made its mission to present the finest in bluegrass music to a northern audience, and over the years, the festival has featured a veritable “who’s who” from the bluegrass world. Little wonder, then, that many of the headline acts have hailed from the Great Smoky Mountains or thereabouts.
The 2017 Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival is set to go June 9 to 11 in beautiful Haines Junction, and, true to form, the headliners are The Boxcars from east Tennessee.
The Boxcars are truly a bluegrass supergroup. The band has twice won the International Bluegrass Music Association Instrumental Group of the Year Award, while the band (and many of its members individually) have been nominated for Grammy Awards.
Adam Steffey, on mandolin, is a veteran, having played in many famous bluegrass bands, most notably seven years with Alison Krauss and Union Station. He has won the International Bluegrass Music Association Mandolin Player of the Year Award an astounding 11 times!
Ron Stewart is also an International Bluegrass Music Association Award winner for his banjo playing, but is equally proficient on guitar, bass and mandolin as well as being nominated for a Grammy for his work on the fiddle during his time with the legendary band J. D. Crowe and the New South.
Keith Garrett, on guitar, has been playing in bluegrass bands since the age of 14, and was a founding member of Blue Moon Rising, where Keith’s memorable picking, singing and songwriting received national acclaim.
Bass player Harold Nixon is another Grammy nominated musician, having played with both Blue Moon Rising and J.D. Crowe.
The latest addition to the band is Gary Hultman, replacing original dobro player John Bowman, who decided to pursue a career preaching and playing gospel music. Gary has been picking in bluegrass bands since the ripe old age of 10.
Every time The Boxcars open their cases, a clinic on how to play and sing bluegrass music ensues. Over eight years, four acclaimed albums and festival and concert performances beyond number, the band has achieved a level of musicianship that sets a standard in the genre. They have a knack for merging the power of traditional bluegrass with an updated style that draws in new fans.
This June, they plan on making many new fans in the Yukon. Band leader Adam Steffey says that they are, “… thankful to everyone up there for asking us to come up. We’re really looking forward to being a part of this year’s festival.”
So, how does a small festival in a remote corner of the Canadian northwest manage, year after year, to attract the top names in bluegrass music all the way from the southeastern part of America?
Festival Artistic Director John Faulkner explains that, “When the bands come up here, they are blown away by the country; plus we make sure that they receive the very finest in Yukon hospitality and get to experience a bit of our unique northern lifestyle. The word gets around, all the bands want to come, and it allows us to punch way above our weight in terms of the calibre of musicians we are able to attract to the festival.”
This year is no exception. In addition to The Boxcars, the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival is proud to present Steve Gulley and New Pinnacle from Cumberland Gap, Tennessee; Alan Bibey and Grasstowne, hailing from South Carolina; Unspoken Tradition, the pride of Cherryville, North Carolina; and top Canadian band, The Unseen Strangers, from Toronto.
Rounding out the line up are a half dozen, top calibre, northern bands.
Check it all out at www.YukonBlueGrass.com. Weekend passes are available online, at Dean’s Strings in Whitehorse and The Little Green Apple in Haines Junction. The “Function in Junction” runs June 9 to 11.