The Slocan Ramblers aren’t from the Slocan and they’re certainly not your grandpa’s bluegrass band.
They’re bringing their high energy, smoking hot bluegrass to the Vernon Lodge and Conference Centre May 12. Opening the evening will be VonReason — a duo consisting of locals Lowell Friesen and his nephew Lancen Harms.
The Slocan Ramblers are actually based out of Toronto and are widely regarded as one of the very top young, vibrant bluegrass bands in Canada. It all started in a garage in Toronto.
“Actually, Toronto has a very active bluegrass scene and we all got into bluegrass from different perspectives and different angles,” says Adrian Gross who rocks the mandolin. “Back in 2000, I was living with Alastair Whitehead who is our bass player. We just started jamming some bluegrass tunes in our garage. We also knew Darryl Poulson from a music school. He played guitar and started joining us. Then we invited Frank Evans who was working as a bike mechanic to join us because he was a good banjo picker.”
The informal jamming in the garage eventually paid off.
“Next thing you know, we got a monthly gig. Soon after that, we got a weekly gig.’ Gross recalls. “We started playing lots of local events around town and that’s how it all got going.”
Before their first gig, they needed a name.
“Our bass player, Alistair Whitehead basically grew up in Kaslo and used to hike the Rambler trail,” Gross remembers. “He was also reading a history book on the old mine and that region. So that’s how we came up with the Slocan Ramblers.”
All four of the original members who were jamming in that garage in Toronto are still with the band, 18 years later.
“Well, for one thing, we’re a lot more professional than we were at the start,” Gross says with a chuckle. “When we started out, we were just kind of a bar band. We would just go on stage and call out tunes and have a laugh. But over the years, we’ve put a lot of time and effort crafting our live shows. We’ve thought about it a lot. We’ve looked at how the show can have a good flow to it and how we’re connecting with the audience.
“We’ve considered how doing a live show is a dynamic thing between the band and the audience. We try to make sure everyone is being drawn in. We also want to build a good ark for the set so that we’re really communicating what we’re doing. When that happens, the audience picks up on what we’re playing.
“There’s also a lot of interaction between the band members on stage and we end up with lots of improvising. A lot of spontaneous cool things happen on stage. We keep each other on our toes. We’re always watching what the person is doing and making sure it’s exciting for the audience. I think that when we’re excited about what’s happening on stage, it just naturally translates to the crowd.”
Although they’ve played in the Okanagan in the past, this will be their first show in Vernon and it promises to be special.
“We’re playing a lot of new music,” Gross says. “We have a new album coming out called Queen City Jubilee. It’ll be released later in June but we’ll be selling copies at our show as a thank you to all the folks who’ve supported us over the years.”
The Slocan Ramblers have garnered the reputation for having tremendous live shows pumping out innovative bluegrass with an edge.
“It’s all about trying to stay spontaneous and in the moment. Performing live is a total thrill. It’s really exciting for us on stage to get that response from the audience. I feel like the more you put out to the audience, the more you get back,” Gross says. “It’s on us as a band to get the audience into it. When it comes across and it works- it’s a real rush for everybody.”
The Vernon Folk-Roots Music Society presents The Slocan Ramblers at the Lodge May 12 at 7:30 p.m. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 and available through www.ticketseller.ca, 250-549-7469, at the Bean Scene Coffee House or at the door, if available. Wine, beer and food available at the show. A 20 per cent discount on food purchased at Don Cherry’s and at the Lodge Kitchen and Bar is being offered on the night of the show with proof of purchase. For more information, go to www.vernonfolkroots.com, Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org.