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Blue Canyon Boys: Old-Time High Lonesome, With Just a Hint of Grateful Dead

Blue Canyon BoysThe name itself, Blue Canyon Boys, carries echoes of bands from an earlier century. And the audience for the group’s Sunday, August 4 concert at the upcoming Beartrap Summer Festival can be forgiven if they’re convinced they’ve been transported to the golden era when a series of “brother acts” ruled the stage at the Grand Ol’ Opry: the Delmores, the Louvins, the Monroes, the Stanleys.

There’s no scientific verification that duets by brothers can have an almost unearthly richness that ordinary harmony lacks, but generations of fans know the phenomenon when they hear it. What sets the Blue Canyon Boys apart is that the members have noDNAconnection whatsoever.

Nowadays the quartet hails from Colorado, but mandolinist and tenor singer Gary Dark had the good fortune to be reared in Kentucky, for which the “high lonesome” sound of the Monroes was named. That mantle also extends to Dark’s high-velocity picking that leaves first-time listeners shaking their heads.

Fellow band member Drew Garrett complements the ambience with bass fiddle and baritone vocal. Guitarist Jason Hicks–who’s also written a number of songs for the group–is a musical disciple of Don Reno and Norman Blake, and banjo player Chris Elliott works with Pete Wernick at his prestigious Dr. Banjo Jam Camp.

The group has four acclaimed CDs to its credit in only six years. Typically they’re a mixture of old favorites (think Carter Stanley’s “HarborofLove”) new originals (“Next Go ‘Round”), and–often, unlikely–covers: Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me.” A favorite closer for their concerts is an a cappella rendition of “I Bid You Goodnight,” which Jerry Garcia often chose to end Grateful Dead concerts.

Even new fans who are not familiar with the group have probably heard its members’ music, either in solo performances or earlier band incarnations. Elliott was a founding member of theBluegrassband Spring Creek, which recorded on Rebel Records, and was winner of the 2007 Rockygrass banjo competition. He’s shared the stage with headliners ranging from Tony Trischka to Sally Van Meter and others.

Drew Garrett played with the 1980s Newgrass band “Danger in the Air,” whose other members went on to play with acts such as the John Jorgenson Quintet and The Dixie Chicks.

Not surprisingly, the terms “high-octane” and “hard-driving” tend to recur in reviews of the band’s music. Lonesome Road Review says of their newest CD “Next Go ‘Round” that “the quartet is well-rooted in the sounds of the past, but isn’t afraid to sweeten and broaden their approach with effects, subject matter, and vocal treatments.”

Westcliffe, Colorado’s public radio KWMV-FM comments, “In this day and age, to be successful in Bluegrass it takes interesting songs, great instrumental breaks, rock solid vocals¬†and harmony, and a passionate delivery.¬†The Blue Canyon Boys deliver on all counts.”

One of the group’s recent triumphs was a prestigious win at the 2008 Telluride band contest. Such a victory often gives a band the chance to expand their audience in new frontiers, and the Blue Canyon Boys have given the opportunity a new scope–an oceanic one, in fact. They were invited to perform on theislandofBorneo, representingAmericaat the 14th annual Rainforest World Music Festival inSarawak,Malaysia.

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