by Michael Bowen & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he boys in Big Red Barn have fun, but sometimes they have difficulty in overcoming stereotypes about bluegrass music. Patrick Klausen, a producer at KPBX who plays bass and does vocals for the group, recalls one incident involving banjo player Charlie Gurche ("gur-CHEE"). A landscape photographer who also plays Dobro (steel resonator guitar) for the quartet, Gurche "has a big sweet tooth," says Klausen. "Once at a gig, he ate five pieces of wedding cake. Anyway, once when we were practicing, Charlie was eating some chocolate. He's chewin' away with a banjo hangin' on him and opens his mouth to reveal chocolate-covered teeth.
"Kinda reminded me of the stereotypical holler-living bluegrass lover."
Big Red Barn, which opens this Saturday's Schweitzer Bluegrass Festival, often steers clear of predictability. "We are not your traditional bluegrass band," says Klausen. "We play the classics like 'Old Dangerfield' and 'Doing My Time;' but we like to ramble through the weeds on the lawn every so often, such as Burt Bacharach's 'My Little Red Book' while playing it in a bluegrass vein."
Ken Glastre (guitar, mandola and vocals) is so accomplished as a live sound engineer that he has overseen concerts by the likes of Leon Redbone, Riders in the Sky and Arlo Guthrie. (He also creates handmade lutes.) Over on mandolin is Whitworth alum Kevin Brown, who works as a software engineer when he's not strumming in the Barn.
Unlike old-timey music, which has players contributing to harmony in unison or with one instrument carrying the lead, bluegrass is more complicated, as Klausen explains: "There's more to this music than a banjo player with a silly grin. It's kinda like jazz -- hillbilly jazz. Traditionally, you have guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle and bass in a bluegrass combo. Each instrument has its basic rhythm function, but as in jazz, soloing is a defining element. The voices of the instruments are as important as the vocals. Each player has the opportunity to take that thing wherever he wants. Then come the vocals with lotsa harmonies -- all this stuff takes thought and time to get good at."
Klausen says that after moving to the Inland Northwest from Southern California in 1990, he "didn't understand why this semi-rural place in the Inland Northwest with all the hills and hollows didn't have much bluegrass music on the radio."
Once Brown started producing "Front Porch Bluegrass" on KPBX, says Klausen, and since he "knew Charlie and Ken from around town" and had worked with Glastre's sound production company for a while, it was only a matter of time until they started jamming. Soon a community of four came together and raised a certain Big Red Barn.
After the Barn's four years of gigs and a CD, says Klausen, "this is our breakout year.... for once I'm in a music combo that has folks calling us for gigs! This summer we played the Seattle Folklife Festival, the Farm Chicks, KPBX Kids Concert and will play the Schweitzer Bluegrass Fest, the Bluewaters Bluegrass Fest, the Grangeville Music Fest, Pig Out, Down Home at the Village in Cashmere and more." With all the bluegrass fans here, Big Red Barn has become an inclusive musical place.
Also on tap this Saturday at Schweitzer will be Jackstraw at 3 pm and, at 5 pm, the Clumsy Lovers (who injected hard-driving rock rhythms into a Nickel Creek sound in their 2004 release, After the Flood).
Have a toe-tappin' good time at the Schweitzer Bluegrass Festival on Saturday, July 22, from 1-7 pm. Free. Schweitzer Mountain Resort, 12 miles northwest of Sandpoint, Idaho. Visit www.schweitzer.com or www.spokanebluegrass.org or call (208) 255-3081.