by Scott Roos
photo by Deanna Roos Photography
"It's just music to me. It's my music."
It's these words, spoken in a moment of clarity by Jaxon Lalonde at the Northern Lights Bluegrass and Old Tyme Music Festival this past August, that still resonate with me when it comes to Saskatoon alternative bluegrass ensemble The Local Group. It's part of their charm. The four piece, comprising Lalonde on banjo, Ethan Peters on stand-up bass, Elliot Dillabough on guitar and Aussie import Justin Vilchez on mandolin, aren't out to champion their genre and try and heroically "save" or "preserve" it. To be perfectly honest, the genre is already crowded with plenty of acts already undertaking this noble endeavor. Not that there's anything wrong with preservation, mind you, but that's not what The Local Group is all about.
Simply put, The Local Group are playing the music they love with the by-product being that they get to play for other people and sometimes even get paid. They weren't born and raised into the bluegrass scene. So they don't arguably necessarily have the natural virtuosic proficiencies or magic touch of someone from the Appalachians. They can shred the standards but their specialty lies in the genre bending original tunes. Sonically, they are an eclectic mix of Francophone, Irish, singer-songwriter folk, bluegrass and old time quirkiness that is as Canadian as pond hockey, back bacon and maple syrup.
The self-described "bluegrass boy band" has a very natural, "boy next door" vibe about them. Their stage presence is warm and inviting. Their stage banter is unorthodox, chock full of dry wit and sarcasm. Their chops on each of their chosen instruments are certainly no joke but it's evident that they don't take themselves TOO seriously either. They are pushing their genre forward by blending in their own songs that are accessible to the "gen pop" and not just cranking out standard after standard to please only the bluegrass intelligencia.
With The Local Group, the key to what they're doing is essentially in their artistry. Their innovation in turn leading them to create something uniquely their own and for that we've decided to honour them with our first ever "Country, Roots and Americana" award.
“Bluegrass is hip music. It’s music for people to get down to. It’s fast. It’s slow. It’s sad. It’s happy music. It’s everything you could ever want,” remarked guitarist Dillabough during the same scrum of a conversation that I had with Lalonde.
When seeing this group in particular perform live and also listening to their most recent full length release entitled Nero's Waltz we couldn't agree more. Congrats, gentlemen. Well earned.