By Scott Roos
It was a frigid September evening last night in the East Flats of Prince Albert, but that didn't stop 16 year old Ira Amundson and 17 year old Jake Vaadeland, better known as the duo Jake & Ira, from putting on a 90 minute masterclass of bluegrass favourites and old timey gospel tunes. With a confidence that belies their youth, these old souls fearlessly battled the elements to entertain a socially distanced, sold out, crowd of 30 in the backyard of Todd Bernier and Sandy Peterson's residence.
Apart from being extremely adept on their instruments, at times seamlessly switching from guitar to banjo, both these young gentlemen also have a very quirky, charming stage presence that kept their audience chuckling in between songs with Vaadeland often times playing the straight man to a more sarcastic, off the cuff Amundson.
"They both have a great sense of humour and are quick quippers. They also play off each other well," explained father to Jake, Gord Vaadeland," (When the guys went to) Nashville, the folks at Studio A suggested they were like a bluegrass Elvis/Buddy Holly duo. It's a weird comparison until you think about it."
Gord continued, "Reminds me of me and Ira's dad back when we toured together in the 90s."
Jake & Ira's style, however, clearly transcends the connection that their father's have with one another. Wearing matching beige suits, and standing in front of a vintage looking Ear Trumpet brand Josephine microphone, the performances of Jake & Ira hearken you back to a much simpler time when artists and their audience members had a much more intimate and interactive feel. Think of musicians like Hank Snow, Hank Williams Sr and bluegrass masters like Flatt and Scruggs and The Stanley Brothers. Last night, audience members shouted out requests and an impromptu interview even took place partway through their set when some boisterous onlookers gave way to their curiosity after both Jake and Ira came down to the fire to serenade them.
"We sometimes get requests before the show or sometimes during a break but whenever we have a setting sort of like we did last night it's sort of easier to communicate with the crowd like that," explained Jake in a telephone conversation earlier today.
There's also a very authentic and organic way that these young men connect to the music they play. This is likely to do with the culture of Big River, SK (the guys are from the nearby hamlet of Park Valley) and the surrounding area giving the opportunities for young musicians to learn their craft at such festivals like Ness Creek Music Festival and the Northern Lights Bluegrass Festival to name a few. The joy they have in performing and mastering their craft is something you just can't teach, though.
"When I listen to (bluegrass music) I get goosebumps," Jake continues,"When I listen to some of those old bluegrass bands and they'd get together and sing their songs and the big echo that would come roaring in the background and the sound of the guitar playing. Just the way it's all set up. It's a unique sound is what it is"
On top of this, the guys were able to play a few traditional sounding gospel tunes including an original from Jake called "Great Joy and Happiness".
"We try to make sure we have a few gospel songs in the set because that's sort of the old time tradition to have those gospel songs and then we like to make sure everyone is in a happy mood throughout the whole thing, not focused on cheating and drinking the whole time like a couple of our songs are. It seems like the people like it (the gospel songs) and it's pretty important to us," said Jake.
Sharing their faith is indeed important to both Jake & Ira who are both "God fearing men".
"Without pushing my beliefs I think my (gospel songs) are written to be very welcoming but not to be judgmental and push opinions on people and that's sort of both where we stand (when it comes to singing about our Christian faith)," stated Jake.
At the end of the day, since this writer last saw these young musicians at Ness Creek Music Festival in 2019, they have come a long way. Indeed, after seeing them play last night, it's evident that they are not simply two kids who play really well for their age. They display maturity, poise, confidence, enthusiasm and a fantastic stage presence that collectively made for an enjoyable evening. They are on a "next level" plain of existence musically and it will be indeed exciting to see what the future has in store for them. Given Saskatchewan's ability to crank out young country and western artists like Tenille Arts, The Hunter Brothers, Shantaia, and of the course Colter Wall, whose youth and preservationist instincts are best compared to those of Jake & Ira's, the sky 's the limit.
All pics of Jake & Ira courtesy of Contingent Colours Photography