The Slocan Ramblers often get asked how it happens that four lads who live in Toronto came to be interested in bluegrass music.
Bass player Alastair Whitehead says there’s a fairly vibrant bluegrass scene in Toronto and even a lot of interest in really old time bluegrass. “There’s been a weekly gathering with groups at the Silver Dollar for something like 17 years. The guys that do that are as good as anybody, so there’s a lot of inspiration for that kind of music,” he says. “There’s also a bunch of people in the old-time tradition that go to this festival in Virginia every year. It’s not really a festival; people come from all over to basically jam to old-time fiddle music.”
The quartet has been described as “Canada’s young bluegrass band to watch”. They’ve been together for fi ve years, having formed when their youngest member was just out of high school. There ages now run between 23 and 30. “We got together pretty casually,” Whitehead recalls. “We were all sort of getting into bluegrass music, so we started getting together and jamming pretty casually, just so we would have an opportunity to play the music. “We all kind of hit it off right from the start, and got a weekly gig not long after that. That’s when we really started being more serious about doing it as a band. About three years ago now we put out our fi rst record. That’s when we started touring.”
They’ve been on the road a lot since then, touring all over Canada, down into the U.S.A. and as far away as Israel. “It was a folk festival called Jacob’s Ladder, on the Sea of Galilee. It was quite a trip.”
That first CD was Shaking down the Acorns. Their second album, Coffee Creek, was set to be released just before they left for the Yukon to play at this weekend’s Dawson City Music Festival.
The band’s lineup includes Frank Evans on banjo, Adrian Gross on mandolin, Darryl Poulson on guitar, and Whitehead on standup bass. Whitehead is the only one who has not been to Dawson City before.
His bandmates performed at house concerts here during the 2013-2014 Home Routes season, but that was in the winter, so July in Dawson City will be a new experience for them.
Whitehead has a sister living in Whitehorse, so he has visited the Yukon before in the summer, but he hasn’t performed here himself. The group has toured the North before. Last summer they played at Folk on the Rocks in Yellowknife, and they recently played in Iqaluit.
Yellowknife, plagued with smoke from forest fires last summer, was a difficult gig to sing at –- hard on the vocal chords, Whitehead says.
He remembers it being only plus two degrees during their appearance in Iqaluit. And it was snowing.
They won’t have that problem in Dawson, which has been hot for most of the summer so far.
The 37th annual Dawson City Music Festival runs from July 24- 26 in Minto Park. For lineup information, see http://www.dcmf. com/