Well THAT was a lot of fun! Wednesday night old-time country and bluegrass at the Rose and Thistle might just be the best night out on the town. It’s certainly the most wholesome fun you can have for a $6 cover.
The High and Lonesome Country Bluegrass Jamboree has been on the go since last August with its buzz, or twang, if you will, growing louder each week.
I wandered down last Wednesday night to check it out, and talk bluegrass with resident guitar picker Matthew Hornell. Hornell immediately shifted attention away from his role in the band, to the rest of High and Lonesome’s players: Dave Rowe, Matt Hender, Mark Tracey, Clayton Saunders, and “Carol from Saskatchewan.”
Hornell’s certainly no slouch, but his praise for the rest of the band was spot on. Mandolin player Dave Rowe has been playing bluegrass in his father’s band, Crooked Stovepipe, since he was 17; banjo player Mark Tracey is a recent PhD graduate with an academic background in bluegrass; Carol from Saskatchewan is so much fun to watch play fiddle that you immediately forget to ask her last name; guitar player Clayton Saunders is surely not the bluegrass newbie he professes to be, and Matt Hender holds it all together with lightening fast fingers on the upright bass.
For his part, Hornell skillfully jumps in and out of songs on guitar, and in between songs with enthusiastic banter about “the folks back home,” and the weekly pie raffle. Beyond that the format is simple: one microphone centre stage with everyone taking turns singing and playing. No showboating, just a whole lot of talent. The band plays two sets, followed by a third open mic set with whomever wants to get up; followed by you rolling into work bleary eyed the next morning with it all having been worth it. Did I mention there’s pie?
The band moves effortlessly between old-time country tunes by the likes of Hank Williams, to quintessential bluegrass pickers like Bill and Charlie Monroe. Whatever you want to throw at them during the third open mic set, they’ll back you up in the said style of the evening. Local musicians, Andrea Monroe, Sherry Ryan, Darren “Boobie” Brown have all joined the band on stage; Mark Bragg even wandered in with his accordion one night.
Maybe it’s the long drawn out winters that lend themselves to gathering in tiny bars with friends on cold wet nights, or maybe it’s the pie. Either way, I ended up on stage singing some Hazel Dickens by the end of the night with the whole thing taking me back to jam sessions at my grandfather’s tiny house as a child. The loud and welcoming laughter, the effortless talent of the players, and an endless catalogue of tunes. Everything about it minus the mysterious Coleman cooler of “Japanese gin” he kept by the door.
Do yourself a favour and make the trek down to the next High and Lonesome. It’s guaranteed to be the most fun you’ll have on a Wednesday night. And did I mention there’s pie?