The Pacific Northwest may be on the other side of a continent from the birthplace of bluegrass music, but that doesn't seem to shake John Reischman & amp; the Jaybirds. Why should it? Since Vancouver BC-based mandolin master John Reischman first assembled the group in 1998, the Jaybirds have become appreciated -- by both their fans and peers -- as one of the most sophisticated, inventive and exciting bluegrass ensembles in the land. They perform at River Park Square's Kress Gallery on Saturday evening.
"Blugrass music has its roots all over the world," observes Jaybirds' fiddle player Greg Spatz. "It has Celtic and African and blues and old-timey, you name it. But yeah, it all came together in the South. That's where its roots initially kind of gathered."
The quintet first gathered informally to help Reischman (a 20-year vet of the West Coast bluegrass scene) promote his second solo album, Up in the Woods.
"Things really clicked," reveals Spatz. "And he decided he wanted to make it a regular group."
With the exception of Bay Area guitarist Jim Nunally, Spatz and the other Jaybirds all hail from somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Spatz calls Spokane home. Bassist Trisha Gagnon is from Chilliwack, B.C. Banjo player Nick Hornbuckle comes from Seattle.
John Reischman & amp; the Jaybirds play a combination of traditional pieces, compositions by other contemporary artists and songs penned by the band.
"When we get together to record, we want to do as much original material as we can. But we also like to include whatever's really good, whatever catches our ear."
They also all perform around the same microphone. "Which is the old way to do it," Spatz explains. "And it's much easier to deal with on the road. You don't have to worry about monitors, all you do is set it up and turn it up as loud as you can. It forces you to think as an ensemble, physically. You're constantly weaving in and out around each other to be heard, which is great."
While Spatz acknowledges the impact of a certain recent soundtrack album on the current bluegrass revival, he is also quick to put it -- and the Jaybirds' unique allure -- into perspective.
"O Brother really helped the industry a lot," he says. "I don't think anyone would say otherwise. It's probably helped us. But Alison Krauss was selling a million records before that. But one thing that I've noticed about this band is that even though we're fairly traditional in our approach -- traditional enough to get hired by bluegrass festivals -- we draw a real influence from folk and old-time music. So we tend to have an appeal to people who have never heard bluegrass before, which is really interesting. Some of our most enthusiastic audiences are kind of diverse in that way."
Now that it has been reintroduced to the culture, people are connecting with bluegrass and recognizing it as a musical form that deeply influenced genres that occupy more space in the popular mind.
"Absolutely," agrees Spatz. "It's the real alternative music."
New York Bound -- In a world of sensitive guys with acoustic guitars, there are few whose musical talent is notable enough to gain worldwide attention. Knowing this, Isaiah Dalager was shocked when his demo gained him acceptance into this year's New York International Music Festival.
The 27 year-old Spokane native will be one of 300 worldwide musicians to perform at Madison Square Garden this April. With one album and a single guitar lesson under his belt, Dalager can't help but blush when discussing his music.
"I'm just a coffee shop-singing acoustic guitar guy," he says. "I just feel honored to be there more than anything."
Dalager, an anesthesia tech at Sacred Heart Hospital, admits that playing music is just a hobby. But after recording his first album, Blind, in his house, Dalager's hobby gained him tremendous popularity through the halls of Sacred Heart, where he sold over 130 CDs in a week.
"I want to make an impression, more or less, to reach people's heart's with my music," Dalager says. "I really want to help people, and if I can use my music as a vehicle, that'd be so cool."
Phil Weidner, his manager (and OR surgical tech), describes Dalager as "the shy one. He puts all of his emotion in the music," says Weidner. "He never yells except for when he's singing."
Dalager had his first gig at the Big Dipper at age 17 and continued to collaborate as the front man of Solar Ivy, a local band. After going solo, he abandoned any adolescent ambitions of getting a record deal, but continued to record music. Now married and the father of a four-year-old, Dalager feels like his musical career has fallen into place by accident. But as a hand-picked act for the New York International Music Festival (he performs there on April 2), Dalager's luck may soon improve. The event is a hotbed for talent scouts and record labels, and many acts walk away with a record deal.
"I've never dreamt of stuff like this -- being in the public eye," he says with a smile. "I'm just going to stay humble." -- Leah Sottile