The Blue Sage Band
Twenty years ago, my band 'Powder Ridge' was breaking up and I was confronted with some hard decisions...
1. Should I continue on the same path as before by forming another "newgrass" band?
2. Do I follow my muse and focus my efforts on clawhammer banjo?
3. Should I tackle a particular pet peeve of mine, which was the apparent lack of interest in the folk music of the west?
My solution was to create a new ensemble where I could combine all three objectives...
I set up some parameters for this new band and started searching for songs. Fortunately I didn't have to look far; I’ve always had an interest in "western" songs and already had a good number in my repertoire.
Having decided that I wanted to start off as a duo, I contacted Ryan Shupe, my old fiddle player from Powder Ridge. In addition to being one of the most gifted musicians I'd ever heard, Ryan was attending Weber State University and was available!
In the meantime, my wife Shauna had been working on the bass violin. I may be a little dense, but after watching her receive numerous offers from other bands, I finally caught on to the idea that she might be a good addition to Blue Sage.
Ryan eventually left the band to pursue his own career, and I was fortunate to find another equally amazing fiddler to take his place. I'd watched Rob Ricks grow into the only fiddler who could fill Ryan's shoes, and I was humbled that both of these great players had wanted to be a part of my music. For those familiar with our 'Live At The Junction Theater' CD, Rob is the musician responsible for the incredible fiddle work on that album.
About fifteen years into the Blue Sage saga, Rob left to get an MBA at Yale and, once again, I found myself without a fiddler. Fortunately, I had grown one of my own. My daughter Heather had grow up with Ryan and Rob's fiddling, and to my delight, some of their musicianship had rubbed off and she was able to slip right into the band when Rob left.
Now that twenty years have gone by, I realize that the band has accomplished one of my three original objectives: Blue Sage IS that perfect blend of western, folk, and bluegrass music I'd envisioned so many years ago. I feel we've brought a unique sound to "western" music, and in doing so, have opened some eyes as to the diversity that can be found in that genre.
But there were still those other two goals...
Although I've been fronting the band with my banjo all these years, most of our instrumental work was built around the fiddle. With the worldwide popularity of my clawhammer teaching site continuing to grow, I felt that the banjo needed to take more of a leading role in Blue Sage. For this to happen, the focus of the band had to shift back towards the newgrass/bluegrass sound as this would effectively complete the remaining two goals on my list. Fortunately, I've been able to enlist the aid of some world class musicians to make this happen!
Quartet, Quintet and Sextet
Over the years, I have been blessed to have had some amazing talent in my bands (musicians such as Matt Flinner, Ryan Shupe, and Rob Ricks).
These "all star" lineups continue to this day as I'm able to perform special shows with four, five and even six piece versions of the band! Ken Sager (mandolin, dobro, guitar), Jake Workman (guitar and mandolin), and Rob Ricks (fiddle) have worked with me individually in the past and I'm looking forward to many more shows with any or all of them…
As always, I'm humbled that players of this calibre are willing to join me in fulfilling my dream of introducing the very first full fledged "new grass" band fronted by a clawhammer banjoist.
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