Updated: May 17
by Scott Roos
Jake Vaadeland and the Sturgeon River Boys delivered two shows of blugrass, country and rockabilly inspired acoustic tunes to an intimate crowd this past Saturday, May 8th at Jam Street Shared Arts Space in Prince Albert. Vaadeland, who is known for being a part of the bluegrass duo Jake & Ira, was joined on stage this time around by The Local Group members Jaxon Lalonde (banjo, stand up bass) and Elliot Dillabough (guitar).
Despite the boys playing their first shows together as a trio, there was a definite air of organic cohesion between them. They seemed comfortable and at home with each other as they cycled through a series of Vaadeland’s original tunes, some traditional instrumental covers and a Flatt & Scruggs song or two. Perhaps part of the group’s comfortability together hinges on the fact that Vaadeland and Lalonde have known each other for a number of years and also played together on occasion.
In his not so distant past, Lalonde was one of those brazen kids who had the courage during Ness Creek’s annual set of festivals to sit in with some of the older players. Ness Creek is known for fostering an appreciation of bluegrass in the youth of the area. Lalonde was no exception and was raised up in that culture and served as an early source of inspiration for Vaadeland.
“Jaxon (Lalonde) I’ve known for a long time. Ever since I started going to the The Northern Lights Bluegrass & Old Tyme Music Festival/Camp I guess or all the Ness Creek Festivals. We’ve only been friends just in the last year, though. I started getting a hold of him because Ira wasn’t as available as him or I would have hoped. So when Ira couldn’t do shows, I decided to start with the Sturgeon River Boys thing and of course he was one of the first people I thought of to be a part of it,” explained Vaadeland in a conversation with NSMZ held the morning after the jam street shows.
In terms of Vaadeland’s knowledge of Dillabough’s prowess on the guitar, it came down to the old “friend of a friend” scenario. In music, a lot of the time, it’s all about who you know and Vaadeland got to know of Dillabough through Lalonde. The rest, as they say, is history.
“Elliot I haven’t known for as long but I knew he was in The Local Group and so this show was the first show he and I ever played together I think. But we also started talking right around the time that Jaxon and I became friends and now we’re all getting to know each other better through the music we’ve been making together,” continued Vaadeland.
Collectively then, when it came to their performances at Jam Street Shared Arts Space Saturday night, the three performed like seasoned pros; almost like they had been playing together for years as opposed to maybe only a few days. Everything, right down to the stage banter, flowed together very well. Vaadeland, clad in a beige, plaid blazer and bowtie, delivered his signature, understated, dry wit, which is something he’s become known for in his performances with Ira Amundson.
In terms of the music, Vaadeland, with these shows, has proven that he’s an emerging, standout artist in Saskatchewan in his own right. He’s a first rate musician to be sure, but his lyrics are also very relatable. There’s an overall sense of disaffection that comes out in his subject material. In truth, when listening to Vaadeland penned anthems like “Town of the Blues”, “I Am My Father’s Son”, “Rock Bottom” and “Retro Man”, you get the feeling that you are getting an all too brief snapshot into the young man’s very creative soul. It’s very reminiscent of grunge music from that angle with lyrical leanings in the direction of Cobain, Vedder, Staley or Corgan.
Through Vaadeland’s words, you learn that it’s hard living in a small town, you learn of Vaadeland’s Christian faith but, perhaps most heartbreakingly, you find out just how hard the pandemic has been on the youth of this province. Vaadeland’s pure, unabashed honesty in his words are definitely his greatest gift to the music world right now.
“When I first started writing I wanted to write something that sounded like bluegrass or something that sounded old timey and I still try to do that. They were all a bunch of heartbreak songs in the beginning; sort of all made up (subject material) and it was more just to have songs,” states Vaadeland matter of factly, “But recently, it’s started becoming more personal.”
On the instrumental side, Vaadeland’s attention to detail and the purity in approach to his craft is so spot on that it’s almost “punk rock” in nature sort of in the same way that Hank Williams III was seen as punk rock for being so similar in sound to his much more famous grandfather. Vaadeland's ability to shred when needed and at other times lay back and serve the song is also a strong element of his overall appeal.
At the end of the day, Jam Street Shared Arts Space continues to be a venue that, with it’s intimacy, has the ability to launch the careers of young, up and coming talent. It’s always been their strong suit as a venue and one that this writer hopes will carry them forward as Saskatchewan begins to slowly awaken from the COVID slumber we’ve been in for over a year now. Jake Vaadeland and the Sturgeon River Boys provided a solid hour of entertainment and the venue was supportive and up to the task of presenting artists of their caliber.
*Pics by Deanna Roos of Contingent Colours Photography