Beyond bluegrass 

Brackendale Bluegrass Festival hosts live concerts and workshops

By Nicole Fitzgerald

Who: The Breakmen

What: The Brackendale Bluegrass Fest

When: Friday, May 4, 8 p.m.

Where: Brackendale Art Gallery

What do you call The Breakmen?

Guitar, five-string banjo, mandolin, and harmonica: Instruments suggest bluegrass.

Reading up on thebreakmen.com site, bluegrass festivals are listed, including the upcoming Brackendale Bluegrass Festival May 4 and 5 at the Brackendale Art Gallery located just outside of Squamish.

But after talking to mandolin player Lee Watson, The Breakmen’s music is best categorized as roots music, throwing off traditional stereotypes of bluegrass tunes with original compositions and music that roams in everything from rock and roll to country vibes.

“People are looking for a bit more from the genre,” Watson said. “Bluegrass is a funny genre. It incorporates all kinds of music: early blues and country and more recently jazz and rock and roll. We kind of draw from all of that, which is more appropriately called roots music.”

How about social music?

That is where The Breakmen sprung from. The B.C. boys Watson, Ben Rogalsky, Matt Lawson, Archie Pateman and Ivan Rosenberg met in the bush tree planting, and on days off strumming the old guitar among friends was a great way to pass the time.

“Sitting around jamming after a day of work in a social atmosphere is what we did,” Watson said. “Since I was 13 years old, there has been a guitar in every house I went to. You get up and play together. That’s how everyone in the band grew up. A big part of bluegrass and folk music is jamming and passing on songs from one person to another. There is big social aspect to it.”

The song Kilometer 19 from the Vancouver/Victoria band’s self-titled debut album was the product of one of those gatherings, with lyrics conjuring up the pros and cons of the tree planting life.

“Archie wrote it after a hard day of tree planting,” Watson said. “He was planting on Ootsa Lake and had to take a barge to and from work. The song talks about how he had to race back for a good spot on the barge to get a seat for dinner. People always have something to say about tree planting.”

Part-time tree planters, full-time musicians, the emerging band is just one year old and is hitting the road bringing their new music to festivals in B.C., Ontario and Alberta over the summer, including the Sorrento Bluegrass Festival.

“(Making music) is a full-time job whether you are making a full-time wage or not,” he said. “You are booking tours, updating websites, writing music and grant proposals, networking.”

He pauses then laughs at the question on whether the band wants to pursue a full-time career in music.

“I’m working full-time,” he said, laughing. “I guess what we are working towards is full-time pay. It’s all a part of it, so I am not complaining.”

Contagious energy with plenty of good-feeling vibes is what this original band is all about, with their ruckusy blues songs, folksy ballads and tight vocal harmonies that weave in and out of rolling raw acoustics.

CBC national radio will be recording the Brackendale concert Friday, May 4 featuring both The Breakmen and Outlaw Social from Victoria at the Brackendale Art Gallery.

The festival also features a live concert from Viper Central and Little Mountain Band the following night, Saturday, May 5. Concerts start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for one show or $25 for two shows.

Workshops will be hosted all-day Saturday covering classes in harmony vox, guitar, banjo, mandolin and more. To register for workshops, contact Cam at 604-898-2338. Workshops are $10.

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