Bluegrass draws musicians close together

High above the Coast Mountains, Bob Hamilton scribbled a verse into his notebook and passed it across the aisle to Nadine Landry.

High above the Coast Mountains, Bob Hamilton scribbled a verse into his notebook and passed it across the aisle to Nadine Landry.

Landry jotted down a verse of her own and sent the notebook back to Hamilton.

The pair were travelling home from a short southern tour with their bluegrass band Hungry Hill.

While on the road, they played the Butchart Gardens Bluegrass Festival in Victoria and also staged some gigs in Washington State.

Passing the songbook back and forth across the aircraft aisle in this way, a song was written by the time the plane touched down in Whitehorse.

When Hamilton got home, he wrote a melody to go with the lyrics and the song Ain’t Got No Sugardad Now was born.

That ballad and many other original songs will be played at Hungry Hill’s CD release concert at the Yukon Arts Centre on Saturday.

The new album, Ride, is the group’s second. Its self-titled debut was released in 2005.

Hungry Hill tends to play original roots-based bluegrass material.

The group originally came together to back Jenny Lester four years ago. They enjoyed playing together so much they formed the band.

Landry, the 27-year-old bass player, is the group’s youngest member.

 “It seems like there are a lot of younger people becoming interested in Bluegrass music,” she said.

“I think they’re looking for an alternative.”

The style is inclusive — it’s easy for youngsters and old folks to pick up an instrument, learn the basics and join in.

But solos are more challenging and can take musicians much longer to master.

Landry comes from a musical family in Gaspésie on Quebec’s east coast.

“My grandma’s a fiddle player and she taught all the kids a different instrument,” she said. “Some play guitar, piano, fiddle, accordion…”

Landry chose upright bass.

However, she didn’t discover bluegrass until she moved to Whitehorse eight-years-ago and befriended Hamilton, a Juno award winning producer, musician and bluegrass aficionado.

“I remember asking him a lot of questions about Bill Monroe, who’s the father of bluegrass.”

When Hungry Hill needed a new bassist two years ago, Landry was more than happy to offer her services.

Unlike most other forms of music, bluegrass musicians play live shows using only one or two microphones with all of the musicians huddled close together.

“It’s better that way,” said Landry.

“It’s so hard to amplify acoustic instruments — two microphones is the original way and its what creates the best amplification.”

Being that physically close is also good for singing harmony, which is a huge part of bluegrass music.

“The sound bounces around in your head and really creates the chord that you’re singing together,” she said.

But, the close proximity requires a little chorography so that the musicians don’t bump into each other as they pluck and sing.

“If the mandolin takes a solo, we back up so that we’re not in the way, then you have to get back in to sing the next verse” said Landry.

“It’s just a big dance.”

When you’re dancing, not having any chords to trip over is nice too.

The members of Hungry Hill are dispersed throughout Northwestern Canada.

Martin Thibeault and Jenny Lester are from Smithers, BC, and Hamilton and Landry are both from Whitehorse.

Ross Nickerson brings his banjo skills all the way from Buffalo, NY.

On average, Hungry Hill spends about one week per month together on the road.

They get together a few days before each tour, which gives them just enough time to work on their harmonies and the necessary choreography.

“It’s pretty intense,” said Landry.

“We go from spending two weeks apart to spending almost 24 hours a day together.”

One would think that spending so much time apart would make it songwriting difficult, but not so.

Band members send song ideas to the others via internet.

They also set aside four days to take a trip to Bowen Island and record a few songs on Hamilton’s new Mac computer.

Some of these songs, along with Ain’t Got No Sugardad Now, appear on Hungry Hill’s new album.

Hungry hill will be kicking off its CD release tour in Atlin today, followed by Whitehorse and then will make its way into Skagway, Juneau, Merit, Vancouver, and Chilliwack.

The show at the Yukon Arts Centre Saturday begins at 8 p.m.

Tickets cost $20 for Adults, $10 for Children/Seniors, and only $5 with an ArtRUSH Teen Pass.