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Review: Saskatoon Edition of Bluegrass at the Barn Does not Disappoint

Updated: May 13, 2023

By Scott Roos

There was also plenty of activities for the little ones! (pic by Contingent Colours Photography)

This past Saturday, June 11th at The Barn Playhouse near Saskatoon, Bluegrass at the Barn presented a showcase of some of the finest guitar, mandolin and banjo pickers, fiddlers and ukulele strummers this side of the Great Lakes. The event, meant to be a bit of a teaser for the Northern Lights Bluegrass and Old Tyme Music Camp and Festival that will be happening later on in the summer, also featured a brief lesson in vocal harmony from the Local Group and instructor Jaxon Lalonde.

The festival was set outdoors with people bringing their own chairs to watch the action. There was a makeshift stage in place that, unfortunately ,did not adequately shield performers from the rain; a tent over the performers was added later and the show would go on. Acoustically, though, each act sounded great. Running the board was well known and respected sound tech Jamie Peever who did an amazing job meeting the sonic demands of the groups that were performing on this day.

Kicking off the afternoon was the trio of the Raven She Hollers whose authentic Appalachian style made for a very enjoyable start. Billed as an “intergenerational band” with Joys Dancer (5-string fretless banjo and vocals) , Chandra Pederson (ukulele, guitar and vocals) and Nissa Shiell (guitar, fiddle and vocals), the group cycled through a series of original songs and classic covers to a highly appreciative audience. They had a pretty chill vibe with Dancer's banjo picking definitely the conversation piece of their set.

The Raven She Hollers were legit (photo by Contingent Colours Photography)

Other groups of note on the day were the always entertaining “bluegrass boy band” of Saskatoon’s The Local Group. Joined by returning mandolin player Justin Vilchez, the quartet was on point as they usually are. The group, rounded out by Ethan Peters (stand up bass, fiddle), Elliott Dillabough (guitar) and Jaxon Lalonde (banjo), can “let er rip” to the “standards” of the bluegrass genre but their true strength is in their versatility of repertoire.

The silky voice of Peters on a few francophone selections as well as the aetherial “Bus Stop Blues”, the latter of which could easily be featured on the soundtrack of a hipster indie film, serves to cut through the humour of Lalonde’s quirky, humorous treatises. Dillabough, to his credit, acts as a nice buffer between the extremes of Lalonde and Peters. Vilchez, meanwhile, is content to stand back and strum his mandolin and grin, his playing style meshing well and filling out the sonic palette of the group as a whole. The Local Group are certainly not to be missed wherever and whenever they are performing.

The Local Group are always a special treat to listen to (pic by Contingent Colours Photography)

Finishing out the day of bands were Winnipeg’s The Stanley County Cut-Ups. They delivered a strong set chock full of bluegrass classics. Their set was energetic but, at the same time, they were able to pull back and feature different members of the band. The quintet, along with The Raven She Hollers and The Local Group will be returning to the Northern Lights Bluegrass and Old Tyme Music Festival in August.

*The Stanley County Cut-Ups (Pics by Contingent Colours Photography)

The remainder of the Bluegrass at the Barn line-up was fleshed out by traditional fiddler Mitch Dureault, the honky tonk musings of Marshall Burns, the bluegrass stylings of Hummingbird Crossing and tweeners 5 Guys Named Dave. The day ended with the sunshine returning just in time for the group jam session. All in all, iIt was a great showcase for a lot of local Saskatchewan talent as well as a good teaser for the festival coming later in the summer.

*Hummingbird Crossing, 5 Guys Named Dave, Mitch Dureault, Marshall Burns (Pics By Scott and Deanna Roos)*

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