5 On a String headlines bluegrass festival 

Band's 25th year celebrated at BAG

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Plucky guys 5 On a String stick to the original bluegrass songs and sound.
  • Photo Submitted
  • Plucky guys 5 On a String stick to the original bluegrass songs and sound.

Gordie Sadler of bluegrass band 5 On a String likens their genre of music to a sonnet.

"An English major might cringe but I like to tell people that bluegrass fits within a box like sonnets do, or haikus," he says.

By this, Sadler means that bluegrass has the same ingredients for each song: the plucky, up-tempo banjo, and the often sad lyrics telling a tale of the loss of love or home — something that came out of its origins during the U.S. Depression in the 1930s and '40s.

But the beauty of bluegrass is, like a sonnet or haiku, that so much can be created within its format, he adds.

The Vancouver-area band, now in its 25th year, will be headlining the 12th Annual Brackendale Bluegrass on Saturday, May 3 at the Brackendale Art Gallery (BAG) on Government Road in Squamish.

5 On a String have played there before.

"We're happy to come back up. It's a fun show," Sadler says.

The band was founded in 1989 and has always been a part-time labour of love, with members working at other jobs, though Sadler is now retired.

Tours around the Pacific Northwest and Alberta have been part of the adventure.

"We've seen a lot of music festivals... there's a lot of water gone under the bridge in terms of where we've been and what we've done. But we're a local bunch of guys who just got together and luckily we were all in the same place in terms of family and in wanting to play," Sadler says.

"It worked out well in that we were able to stay together. It's difficult when one member has a baby, and another member wants to play every weekend in bars. It's what tends to lead to breakups."

There has been a family mentality:

"Our philosophy from the very beginning was if we can stick together and keep it going, eventually we'll get tight and have a good-sounding act."

Along with Sadler on banjo, 5 On a String are made up of Hugh Ellenwood on fiddle, baritone Garry Stevenson, Dan Mornar on double bass, and Tim Eccles on mandolin. All of them take turns on vocals.

"When you've been together this long, a couple of tunes will come forward, but we fall into the category of a traditional bluegrass band in that we follow the originators of the music closely. For the most part it's straight up Flat and Scruggs (The Foggy Mountain Boys), Bill Monroe and Jimmy Martin," Sadler says.

The band has released four albums, it's fifth — 25 Years to Life — is almost complete and due out by Labour Day weekend. Like their other albums, the latest is made up of original tunes and covers.

The band's career has encompassed some big changes in music making, from vinyl to MP3s. Their music is on iTunes, but Sadler says most of their sales are made at their concerts.

"I've got to admit that we've agonized about whether we should produce CDs anymore because it is a medium that is on its way out, but our demographic is largely older folks and they tend to hang to that sort of thing longer. We still occasionally have people coming up to see if we sell cassettes!" Sadler says.

Thor Froslev of the BAG says the festival has always been popular because bluegrass is very popular.

"5 On a String is real cool," Froslev says. "The bluegrass beat, the primitive beat, touches a lot of people and it's fun. It's upbeat and there are some good songs."

For more on the band visit www.5onastring.com.

As part of the festival there is also a slow-pitch jam for musicians of all abilities at the BAG from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. for $5.

Tickets for the 5 On a String concert, with special guests Runaway Wagon, are $20 ($15 for under 14s) and available at BAG or Xocolatl.

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