Bluegrass band The Slocan Ramblers took the stage at the Weinberg Theatre in Frederick, Maryland last week with a youthful, contemporary set, demonstrating with ease the timelessness of the genre that is nowhere near retired. Hailing originally from Toronto, the Slocan Ramblers feature lead vocals by Frank Evans who also plays banjos, Adrian Gross (who assumed most of the comedic frontman duties) on mandolin; Alastair Whitehead on stand up bass and Darryl Poulsen on rhythm guitar.
One of the first songs they performed was “Shut the Door” from their recent release Queen City Jubilee. This was followed by an Uncle Dave Macon song, “Hillbilly Blues,” where the band showed off gorgeous three part vocal harmonies.
“Just To Know” was another pretty song from their recent release. The band featured Evans, Whitehead and Poulson frequently gathered together around one mic, with Evans sometimes changing to jam with Gross. The wild activity of the music was matched by the visual effects of the beautiful instruments and the shifting of the band members.
Adrian Gross addressed the audience letting them know the band’s new album is just out on vinyl, although their album was released on CD and digitally in June. [To read our review, click one of these bolded words.] Then he joked about the time they played in June in the northern most part of Canada (Nunavut)… in the snow. Gross told the crowd the next song was the first song Whitehead ever wrote: “Angeline.”’
Gross continued recounting stories from the road, by telling the crowd that one time while the band was playing in Guelph they were asked to teach a workshop, at a theatre. They agreed to the request without quite realizing the adventure that awaited them. When they arrived, it was to a large auditorium with over 800 kids all in, as Canadians phrase it, Grade One. The Ramblers were told they had a 90 minute session with this captive audience of six year olds, and, as Gross put it: “None of us have any early childhood experience. And these kids were digital natives and we were their first acoustic band experience.” The story continued to unfold as the band had instructed the kids to dance and get their energy out — kids were dancing all over the place up on stage. “We did our “Groundhog” song and told them to dance in their seats, and Gross told it, “it looked like a giant whack a mole game.” Unfortunately, however, that gleeful experience took a rather different turn, when, as the band was hanging out after the workshop, a work crew walked carrying crates of broken auditorium seats.
“This is a song called “Groundhog,”” Gross, said, and the band launched into a whirlwind of the song from their Coffee Creek album. It’s a fun call & response song, including the audience in the fun and we all felt like those 6 year olds in the story.
“I’m okay, I’m all right I just feel a little lonely tonight” they began, next, and it was “The Apartment Song” by Tom Petty. Gross told fans they are on a Spotify playlist tribute to Tom Petty: “Canada Covers Tom Petty” due to be live on October 20:
Gross and Alastair Whitehead have been playing together since they were teenagers, as Gross put it “in the garage. Then we graduated to bars. Then we played at the Cloak and Dagger (aka the ‘puke and stagger’) near Kensington Market in Toronto.” They’d play songs like this traditional, which the band played post haste: “The Sun’s Gonna Shine in My Back Door Someday.”
Frank Evans switched to clawhammer banjo for one of the songs he wrote: “Mighty Hard Road.” Then the Ramblers played “He took the wrong way home,”and “Long Train Charlie and Moundsville,” and then announced the last song: “Mississippi Heavy Water Blues.”
For the requisite encore, they played the old jug band song “Stealin'” and then a truly delightful version of John Hartford’s “Steam Powered Aero Plane” that made everybody smile. And what more could you ask for, on your Thursday night? Then they stayed in the lobby chatting easily with their fans for a good long time. Thanks Ramblers. Check here for tour dates near you, and to get their album: http://slocanramblers.com/