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.
Rob returned to Salt Lake a couple of years ago and the Blue Sage officially became a quartet.
Now that twenty years have gone by, I realize that the band has accomplished one of my original three objectives: Blue Sage IS that perfect blend of Western, Folk, and Bluegrass 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 the genre.
But there are still those other two goals...
Although I've been fronting the band with my banjo all these years, most of our instrumental work has been built around the fiddle. With the worldwide popularity of my clawhammer teaching site continuing to grow, I feel that the banjo needs to take more of a leading role in Blue Sage. For that to happen, the focus of the band will have to shift back towards the newgrass/bluegrass side of things as this would effectively complete the remaining two goals on my list.
Over the years, I have been very blessed to have had some world class talent in my bands, musicians such as Matt Flinner, Ryan Shupe, and Rob Ricks. Starting in 2011 (if I can find venues willing to hire my larger ensembles), I'll be able front another "all star" lineup for certain shows. Ken Sager (mandolin, dobro) and Jake Workman (guitar and anything else with strings) have worked with me individually in the past and I'm looking forward to more shows with this six piece “big band”...
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.
Hire Bluegrass Bands