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Chemainus Bluegrass Festival starts this Saturday

Fans of bluegrass and old-time acoustic music are in for a treat at the Chemainus Bluegrass Festival this weekend.
Runaway Train is one of the featured bands at this year’s Chemainus Bluegrass Festival

Fans of bluegrass and old-time acoustic music are in for quite a treat this weekend in Chemainus.

The Chemainus Bluegrass Festival, scheduled for July 14 and 15, will feature some great names in those musical genres.

The band Runaway Train will be visiting from Washington, allowing Vancouver Island audiences to enjoy the banjo wizardry of 17-year-old Luke Dewhirst. Dewhirst has been sponsored by OME banjos since the age of seven and is a winner of the Rockygrass banjo contest in Colorado.

Runaway Train also features upright bassist Kent Powell, previously of the popular band Crossfire, with whom Powell played at the Bluegrass Showdown in Owensborough, Kentucky. The band is rounded out with well-known northwest bluegrass stalwart Greg Linder on guitar and vocals and mandolinist Nolan Elwell.

The Chemainus Bluegrass Festival will be presenting the June Bugs from Calgary. This is a five-piece band which provides a unique and unforgettable sound with its four-part, all-female harmonies. The four ladies — Renay Eng-Fisher on upright bass, Audrey Guagliano on mandolin and guitar, Sue Anne Borer on autoharp and Christie Simmons on guitar and banjo — are joined by accomplished fiddler Billy Zee, whose rich bass voice adds to the female harmonies.

Vancouver Island audiences will no doubt be familiar with the Clover Point Drifters, among the finest of B.C. bluegrass bands.

One of the group’s notable features is the outstanding sound of Larry Stevens with his resophonic slide guitar, which helps give the Drifters such appeal. George Robinson provides many of the lead vocals, as well as some wonderful work with his upright bass. Robinson’s bass is actually a bit of Canadian musical history, having been originally played by Duke Neilson of Don Messer’s Islanders. Banjoist Mike Kraft is known in the Victoria area not only for bluegrass, but also for his guitar work with a variety of country, rockabilly and blues bands. Alan Law provides the guitar and many vocals, while mandolinist Dan Parker will entertain with his blistering solos.

The Maple Mountain Boys will be a special treat for the Chemainus crowd. Jeff Ellis will be providing the mandolin and fiddle, along with some of the vocals. Ellis is originally from Moneta, Va., where he was Viginia state champion of both guitar and upright bass. He is from a musical family, his father Ricky having been a five-time world mandolin champion. Ellis has travelled extensively with top bands, including award-winning David Parmley and Continental Divide, as well as Marty Rayborn of the country supergroup Shenendoah.

Ellis is joined in this band by well-known Cowichan Valley guitarist and vocalist Mike (Boomer) Boyd, Barry Fairall on the upright bass and Mike Dempster on banjo.

One of Vancouver Island’s most-listened-to bands is Bluegrass Fever, which features the banjo wizardry of Victoria-based Barrie Hemmings, who also provides many of the lead vocals. Hemmings was one of the original members of Bluegrass Fever when the band was formed in Ontario in 1989.  When he moved to Vancouver Island a number of years ago, Hemmings was joined by guitarist Bob Johns, known on the Island for his years with the popular Ladysmith band The Back 40 Boys. The upright bassist is Guy Langlois of Port Alberni, who was for many years based in Yellowknife, but is now well-known in Vancouver Island’s music scene. Bluegrass Fever will be joined by Jeff Ellis on mandolin.

The Cowichan Valley’s own Bryon Clayton Thomas will be at the Chemainus Festival with their mix of new and traditional music. Bryon Thompson provides the lead vocals and guitar, as well as some work with the resophonic slide guitar. Clayton Long is the mandolinist and vocalist, while Tom Horsfal gives a wonderful display with his five-string electric bass.

The Chemainus Bluegrass Festival takes place Sat., July 14 from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. at the bandstand in Waterwheel Park. Admission is a suggested donation of $10.

On Sun., July 15, the festival moves one block to the Chemainus Legion Hall, where a $15 ticket buys a home-cooked brunch, as well as the bluegrass concert.

The doors open on Sunday at 9:30 a.m., and the music goes until 1 p.m. Tickets for Sunday can be reserved in advance  at www.chemainu

The festival features an open mic segment, as well as workshops from top musicians on the various bluegrass instruments.

Free RV camping and jamming will be at the nearby Saltair Pub. To reserve a camping spot, contact the organizers at www.chemainu

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