When Bluegrass Fever performs at the Transfer Beach Amphitheatre this Sunday, the Cowichan Valley-based band will introduce its newest member, an award-winning mandolin player and guitarist originally from Virginia.
Bluegrass Fever plays the second Concerts in the Park hosted by the Ladysmith Resources Centre Association at Transfer Beach Sunday night, and this performance will feature the latest incarnation of the band — Barrie Hemmings on banjo, Bob Johns on guitar, Guy Langlois on upright bass and Ellis on mandolin.
Ellis was born into a musical family, and his father is a five-time world champion mandolin player. Starting at the age of 13, he began learning the acoustic bass, followed by mandolin, guitar, banjo and fiddle. Ellis has been named Virginia state champion for acoustic guitar and acoustic bass and has won more than 50 first-place awards.
Originally formed in 1989, Bluegrass Fever has developed a solid reputation as a crowd-pleasing bluegrass band and is consistently rated among the top 10 bluegrass groups in Canada.
Bluegrass Fever migrated to Vancouver Island from Ontario a number of years ago when Hemmings — a member of the band’s original lineup — moved to Victoria.
“Hemmings is master of both the three-finger and clawhammer banjo stylings — you can’t miss his hard-driving sound when you hear the band,” states the band’s website.
The band was re-assembled with Johns, who is known on the Island for his years with the popular Back Forty Boys and Langlois, an upright bass player from Yellowknife.
Johns says Sunday’s crowd can expect a good variety of bluegrass music during the band’s performance, as they write their own songs and perform a mix of traditional bluegrass and new bluegrass.
“We like to sound mainly like ourselves,” said Johns. “I think all bluegrass bands like to sound like themselves, and we have our own sound, and it’s driven a lot by Barrie’s banjo.”
The band is inspired by the Del McCoury Band and by Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, and Johns says there are a couple great B.C. players they’d love to be compared with one day, such as John Reischman and the Jaybirds.
Johns thinks bluegrass music has been making a bit of a comeback.
“What really made a big difference was that movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which opened it up to people who hadn’t heard that kind of music,” he said. “We get quite big crowds. There are some bands that are popular now with the young crowds that are bluegrass-based, like Mumford and Sons. They’re very popular with the younger people.”
Johns feels the musicianship and accessibility of bluegrass music appeal to people of all ages.
“Each band member can show off; each person takes a solo, so you can hear good musicianship if you’re listening,” he said. “It always features some kind of vocal harmonies, which can get kind of complicated.”
Fans can easily pick up an instrument and start jamming with bluegrass players, bringing a sense of community to bluegrass festivals, where all-night jams will break out among players of all levels, noted Johns.
“The music can be played in a jam and can be played by people who haven’t played their instruments for long,” he said. “The banjo takes a long time, and there is a flat-picking style of guitar that takes a long time, but the strumming doesn’t take very long to learn.
“At bluegrass festivals, there’s always a lot of of jamming; you get a lot of people bring their instruments, and they play all night. The professionals will join in too and play all night … there’s not many forms of music where you get to jam along with the stars.”
Sunday’s concert starts at 6 p.m. Admission is by donation, and all the proceeds go to the Ladysmith Resources Centre Association for programs and operations.
Besides this Sunday’s Concerts in the Park performance, Bluegrass Fever will be performing tonight (July 3) at the Chemainus Valley Cultural Arts Society’s Music in the Park at Waterwheel Park in Chemainus at 7 p.m. and also at the Chemainus Bluegrass Festival July 14-15.
For more information about the band, click here.
To learn more about Concerts in the Park, click here.