Hooray For Banjos

The Slocan Ramblers will bring bliss to bluegrass-loving ears

Music | by Tamara Harder

The Slocan Ramblers
Creative City Centre
Thursday 9

The Slocan Ramblers bring their modern twist on traditional bluegrass back to Saskatchewan this month. And they’re not fiddling around.

Literally: Alastair Whitehead (bass), Darryl Poulsen (guitar), Adrian Gross ( mandolin), and Frank Evans (banjo) are the rare bluegrass group that performs without a fiddle player.

This unique configuration forces them to write new songs and arrange traditional music creatively.

From intimate house concerts to large venues, or from Ness Creek to opening for Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers at the Toronto JazzFest, The Slocan Ramblers always bring an upbeat energy. Although Poulsen seems to have a venue preference. “There’s something special about the intimacy of a small venue concert with guests three feet from the band,” he says.

That more intimate feel is what you can expect from all four Saskatchewan shows (besides the two cities, the Rambers also play Maple Creek and Forget).

Big or small, it’s a rewarding career — especially since The Slocan Ramblers see more and more bluegrass fans, as well as more banjo pickers at their concerts and workshops, every year. They credit the success of the Punch Brothers, the Coen brothers’ O Brother Where Art Thou?, and Martin for this upswing in interest.

In particular, Poulsen compliments Martin’s professionalism, his amazing ability to interact with the crowd and his friendliness. But Martin is an underrated banjo player, too, he says.

“People often say Steve Martin is a great comedian and a pretty good banjo player,” says Poulsen. “But I would say he’s an awesome banjo player. He really does hold his own.”

It’s been a life in music for this group. All four Ramblers were once students at Humber College’s music program. Poulsen says they all love music so much that it’s hard to imagine not performing professionally.

And not just performing.

“As much as it’s important to practice, it’s almost as important to listen to music,” says Poulsen. “Maybe more important,” he says.

All the more reason to take your ears out Rambling this month.

Along with four Saskatchewan shows, The Slocan Ramblers have partnered with The Northern Lights Bluegrass and old Tyme Music Society to offer workshops around the province from March 12–14. Visit slocanramblers.com for details.