Bluegrass Beyond Borders: Grass Under Fire fans the flames up north
It should come as little surprise that the appeal of bluegrass extends beyond our norther border. After all, given the shared influences melded into the music that’s shared between the US and Canada, certain similarities are bound to surface.
Take for example the band that calls itself Grass Under Fire. Formed just over ten years ago, the band’s had a more or less fluid membership roster, but now consists of Anthony Bacon on banjo, James LeRiche on bass, and Dan Buch on mandolins, fiddle and vocals.
To be sure, the ebb and flow of musicians within their ranks doesn’t have as much to do with musical direction as it does with the practical realities surrounding present day circumstance. “For the last 18 months, COVID has presented its issues and even more so with our group,” Buch explains. “One of our longstanding members was a bio scientist with Health Canada, and when the pandemic hit, she was crazy busy with her day job. Part of the ordeal had her relocating to Manitoba. We had another long time member who also had concerns and thought the time and circumstances were such that he bowed out. And to make things even more complicated, our banjo player, who remains part of the go-forward group had an elbow issue and was out of commission with surgery and rehab. Anthony is also a full-time musician with the Canadian Armed Forces.”
Buch goes on to say that the group is in the process of auditioning a new member, but he notes that it’s also a bit of a tricky proposition. “We have a partially finished recording project that the group want to complete,” he notes. “A bit of unfinished business before we can really turn the page and move on.”
Buch describes the band’s sound as having a strong focus on vocals and harmonies. “We try to incorporate some stuff from across Canada,” he says. “Anthony is originally from Alberta, and James is from Newfoundland. That makes for a lot of geography and influences.”
He adds that those influences span the decades. He names the Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe, J.D. Crowe, the Bluegrass Album Band, Alison Krauss, and current artists such as the Boxcars and Molly Tuttle as among the many that have had a profound effect on the GUF sound.
While the band’s activities have been mostly confined to their home base in Ontario — Buch cites day jobs and family obligations as the primary reason why that’s the case — they have performed at local festivals, fairs, and fundraisers. He mentions that they’ve also played for the Canadian Central Awards on several occasions, and have had the opportunity to open for such notable performers as Russell Moore & Third Tyme Out, Edgar Loudermilk, and Molly Tuttle.
As for recording, Buch says that they hope what he calls “the never ending recording project” will come to fruition in the near future.
“We have written and performed some originals, but we tend to do covers and material more commonly known,” he says.
Happily, their music has been well received by those at home. Buch says that they’ve been very supportive and that Ontario audiences have always expressed a genuine interest in bluegrass and grassicana.
When asked why he believes bluegrass enjoys such wide appeal, Buch more or less demurs. “I’m not sure that I am any sort of authority, but I think bluegrass enjoys its popularity due to its beautiful simplicity,” he suggests “Most songs offer strong vocal arrangements and beautiful harmonies. It is unique — that sharing of breaks by a number of lead instruments. Plus, a lot of songs are uptempo.”
He also points out that in their home environs, there is a special connection. “In this particular area, the Ottawa Valley, there’s a rich heritage of Scottish, Irish, and French Canadians that brought over folk tunes and fiddle music. Bluegrass ticks a lot of the same boxes as the European folk music, as well as some of those traditional sounds.”
As far as the band is concerned, they’re content to pursue their passion and move further towards the future. There is a caveat however, one he makes a point of mentioning. “If you happen to know a guitar-playing vocalist bluegrass player in the market who is prepared to work hard for ‘tens’ of dollars, let us know.”