Bluegrass Beyond Borders: Veranda offers bluegrass with a French twist
It’s hardly surprising that those who are most fervent about the basics of bluegrass should be those who reside in the closest proximity of the US, specifically our neighbors to the north in Canada. And there’s no better example of that ready acceptance than the eagerness and enthusiasm exuded through the music of a Montreal-based duo that calls themselves Veranda.
After sharing his skills with any number of folk, country, and bluegrass artists over the past decade, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Léandre Joly-Pelletier met actress and veteran Canadian television series star Catherine-Audrey Lachapelle at Barfly, a cozy watering hole that’s known as one of Montreal’s most prominent bluegrass venues. They quickly became friends, then musical partners, and eventually started writing music together, bringing two more musicians, Kieran Poile and MarcOlivier Tremblay-Drapeau, into the fold.
Although Veranda focuses mainly on original material, they also cover a wide array of traditional bluegrass and country songs as well. “When Catherine and I started playing together, we were all about learning some jam-material,” Joly-Pelletier explains. “Classics like Dark Hollow, Meet Me by the Moonlight, Setting the Woods on Fire, Darling Corey, Thanks A Lot, Rain and Snow, High On a Mountain, and so many more. The first song we ever sang together was Bill Monroe’s Kentucky Waltz, and that’s still one of our favorites.”
That led to the release of two well-received debut EPs — the first one in English and the second in French. They’re currently working on a full-length record that will also be recorded in French, and released this fall.
The pair describe their music as “… original French bluegrass music that blends traditional and contemporary, simplicity and virtuosity… music that is filled with sweet harmonies and soulful melodies. From high lonesome bluegrass to intimate folk ballads…a fresh take on classic country music. Imagine a place way out in the countryside, with Dolly Parton, Ralph Stanley, and Emmylou Harris singing under the pines; that’s where Veranda calls home.”
“We’re influenced by such a wide variety of folk oriented music,” Lachapelle continues. “Léandre is a die-hard Stanley Brothers fan, and he listens to everything bluegrass and old-time. He loves the classic stuff, but is also into all the new bands like Town Mountain, the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, and Blue Highway, just to name a few. I’m more early Dolly Parton oriented, and I also like Emmylou Harris and music that’s more of the folky side. We both have a deep love and respect for traditional American music, and that’s really the foundation of Veranda.”
Despite the fact that they group has only been in existence a mere two years or so, they’ve managed to do plenty of roadwork. “We’ve been lucky to tour quite a bit in our own province of Quebec, in Ontario, and also in eastern Canada,” Joly-Pelletier notes. “We had a really nice calendar and some coast to coast shows booked for 2020, but COVID-19 had us change our plans.”
Nevertheless, the group has managed to play some major festivals in both their native Quebec and in the nearby provinces, including the Montreal Folk Fest, Mémoires et Racines, Folk Music Ontario, and Home Routes, as well as various folk festivals further east, such as the Cloggeroo Island Folk Festival on Prince-Edward-Island. “We were scheduled to play the Kluane Bluegrass Festival up in the Yukon back in June 2020,” Lachapelle recalls. “That would have been a blast. Hopefully we’ll be able to start touring again and finally get to play there in 2021.”
They’ve also had opportunity to share stages with other musicians of note, including the band Damn Tall Buildings and members of the Foghorn Stringband at the Montreal Folk Fest.
“We were really looking forward to play with some of bluegrass finest, folks like the Slocan Ramblers and Seth Mulder and Midnight Run, at the Kluane Bluegrass Festival,” Lachapelle adds ruefully.
Nevertheless, Veranda has surrounded themselves with any number of major players in the local bluegrass community. “We’re really lucky to be surrounded by some of the best folk acts here in Montreal,” Jolt-Pelletier insists. “Friends like Katie Moore, Sin and Swoon, Notre-Dame-De-Grass, and All Day Breakfast Stringband have all been huge influences to us.”
So too, the group has also managed to make some impressive inroads of their own. “There is a really good response to our music up here,” Lachapelle maintains. “Bluegrass music is considered as something exotic, but it’s also seen as something that’s rooted in some of our traditional Québecois music. The same Scottish and Irish fiddle music influence can be found in the folklore up here. So too, the fact that some of our material is in French piques curiosity. There hasn’t been a lot of Franco-bluegrass made here before, and people are really getting into it.”
Likewise, the group can attest to the appeal that bluegrass provides, regardless of the locale. “There’s nothing like bluegrass music,” Jolt-Pelletier maintains. “It can be hard-driving and exciting, or lonesome and heart-breaking and sometimes all of those at the same time. There’s something really pure and honest about bluegrass and we feel that no matter who you are or where you’re from, chances are you can find something touching about the music.”
To learn more about Veranda, visit them online or on their socials: