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"All smiles" - Another year of Bluegrass at the Barn comes to a close

by Scott Roos

photos by Scott Roos/Scotty the Rooster Photography

This past Saturday, June 8th, at the Barn Playhouse near Saskatoon, the Northern Lights Bluegrass and Old Tyme Music Society presented their fourth annual “Bluegrass at the Barn” event (note: another Barn event was held near Regina on June 9th). With frigid temperatures and spots of rain in the forecast, it was announced in the hours leading up to the event that the concert, featuring Gil and Wil, The Doggone Brothers, 5 Guys Named Dave and The Lonesome Town Painters, would be moved indoors. The inclement weather, fortunately, proved to not dampen the spirits of those present as the Barn Playhouse proved to be, once again this year, a vibey establishment, perfect for a musical gathering the ilk of “Bluegrass at the Barn”. 

Starting things off, the duo of Gil and Wil (Holly Gilroy and Aiden McCrorie Wilson), were a charming addition to the day with their signature close harmonies, folksy swagger and mild bluegrass/old time undertones. Their combination of some of their original tunes and well placed covers were met with much adoration from those present. Gil and Wil are just one of the many success stories that the Society has helped to foster over the years. Cutting their teeth with a well deserved win in a songwriting competition at the Bluegrass Camp in 2022, these two young ladies have slowly but surely improved their craft and no doubt, over the next few years, will go on to do great things. The potential is there. They are definitely in the “ones to watch” category in terms of the province's continuously burgeoning scene. 

Next up was another duo. The Kootenay-based band The Doggone Brothers, featuring Clayton Parsons on banjo, guitar and dobro, and Michael Hepher on mandolin, octave mandolin, and guitar, provided a delightful set of chill, folk imbibed tunes that leaned perhaps a little more substantially in the direction of Bluegrass than Gil and Wil. In particular, Hepher’s mandolin playing was notably tasteful whilst Parsons’ strumming provided a very solid foundation. Their vocal harmonies were pristine and their stage presence showed warmth and depth. In short, these two were a lot of fun to watch and listen to. In particular, their singalong rendition of the classic "Don't Fence Me In" was a hit with the crowd.

After a brief pause to allow enough time for some set up at the back of the venue, the "Pick Along Jam" commenced. This has become a tradition at this event. Its inclusive nature in terms of skill levels and abilities is a nice change of pace from the otherwise “gig” style nature of “Bluegrass at the Barn”. The Northern Lights Bluegrass and Old Tyme Music Society holds many jams throughout the year and they are also a hallmark of the annual camp so a few jammers were on hand along with several of the main stage artists to participate in the musical fun on this day. 

The third act on the day, 5 Guys Named Dave delighted the crowd with a mix of bluegrass standards and old time style instrumentals. This group has performed a lot in the Saskatoon area for many Society events and functions since their formation. They have been steadily working on their sound during this time, slowly but surely becoming more and more legit. Their lineup also seems to be in constant flux. This year, the inclusion of Emile Hooper (Fiddle) and Holly Gilroy (stand up bass) alongside charter members Rebecca Hammel (guitar/vocals), and Michael Taylor (Mandolin/vocals) as well as Adam Clement (banjo/vocals), seemed to give the Daves an extra few things that perhaps they were lacking in before: swagger, in the pocket groove, and an overall confident tone. The solo breaks from each member were interesting, the vocals from Hammel in particular were cool and unique as she soared into her upper register with a very distinctive vibrato. In short, these guys have come a long way and were thoroughly enjoyable. 

Finally, headliners The Lonesome Town Painters, from the mean streets of East Vancouver, took the stage at The Barn Playhouse and man did these guys know how to put on a solid show. Taking inspiration from the Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs the quartet featuring Patrick Bartel (banjo, lead and backing vocals) Jeremy Freeman (mandolin, lead and backing vocals), Fred Beach ( bass and backing vocals), and Angelo Eidse  (guitar, lead and backing vocals) were a truly captivating and exactly as advertised with their decidedly traditional take on the bluegrass genre. Great stage banter, stunning musicality and a vintage look proved that Bluegrass at the Barn had indeed saved the best for last. 

All in all, the Northern Lights Bluegrass and Old Time Music Society continues to foster the growth of the local Saskatchewan scene by holding events such as Bluegrass at the Barn. Bluegrass at the Barn gives the local acts a chance to shine and also prove that they can hold their own with more established acts like The Lonesome Town Painters. In turn the out of town acts are afforded the opportunity to play in front of a fresh audience and establish connections they hadn't before. It's family friendly with things to do for the littles but also musically inclusive thanks to the jam session held on site. To sum it all up... It's a great time; guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

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