The Blue Canyon Boys, a traditional bluegrass band who call Lyon, Colo., home, will make a special trip to play guitarist Jason Hicks’ hometown of Labadie, Mo. “This will be the first time visiting with the band” said Hicks, who was born and raised in Labadie.
A bluegrass band of unparalleled energy, BCB are more than just pickers and grinners. This Rocky Mountain quartet of acoustic energy is sure to entertain an audience of all ages. The BCB deliver a unique take on classic bluegrass standards, which are intermixed with the band’s original compositions. Their brothers-style harmonies and instrumental mastery are executed with the sort of drive and passion found only in bands from a bygone era.
The BCB have received numerous honors, which were given to individual members as well as the band as a whole. Jason Hicks has been featured in Flatpicking Guitar Magazine, and is a regular guest columnist for the publication. Banjo player Jeff Scroggins is a two-time national banjo champion. BCB were named bluegrass band of the year at the Telluride Bluegrass Competition, and just recently returned home from Borneo, which held the Rainforest World Music Festival. At this festival, they were the only band who represented bluegrass music.
Hicks spoke to The Missourian’s Currents arts and entertainment editor Ethan Busse last week about his career and the show he will put on at the Labadie Station with The Blue Canyon Boys.
Following are highlights from that interview:
ETHAN: How did you get your start in music, was it in Labadie?
JASON: Well I started when I was 16. Mom and Dad had given me this old Dodge pickup truck that I could start driving when I was 16, and I wasn’t that interested in that, I was more interested in music. So they let me sell the truck, and I bought a guitar and amp when I sold the truck, so that’s kind of how I got my start and I just fell in love with guitar, and went trough various musical genres over the last 20 years or so, and I guess about in the last 10 years I fell into bluegrass, and that’s kinda where that came up. I went to Webster University and studied, and have a degree in music from Webster University and just love music and love the guitar.
ETHAN: That’s a pretty incredible story, at 16 selling your truck so you could buy a guitar!
JASON: Yeah, because I didn’t have any money and I really wanted a guitar and amp, and the only way to do that was to figure out a way to get some money. That was the most direct and easy route to getting a guitar and amp. I really didn’t care that much about driving, most people when they turn 16 that’s the first thing they think about, I couldn’t have cared less about driving because I wanted to learn how to play guitar. Probably hundreds of hours of playing electric guitar, not very well, really loud, up in my room. Mom and Dad never complained about the noise and the racket, 10 or 10:30 at night they would say it’s time to turn it down, it’s bedtime, but they were really supportive of it.
ETHAN: Starting out playing rock music, what eventually led you to bluegrass, did you find it before the move to Colorado?
JASON: Sort of before I came to Colorado, I didn’t start playing it much. There’s this guy named Norman Blake, who’s just a phenomenal acoustic guitar player and a good singer and a good songwriter and he is really well known in bluegrass circles and when I first met my wife, we worked together and she was actually the person who turned me on to Norman Blake. I hadn’t heard of him and I really got into that style of guitar playing because he would basically be a one-man show, just him and his guitar. He would be able to tell a story, sing a song and play rhythm but also be able to do guitar leads while playing his rhythm. The idea of doing that was really fascinating to me, so that was kind of my first foray into bluegrass. After moving to Colorado I discovered there was a pretty thriving bluegrass scene here, and I started going out and there are lots of public places where you can go and play with people who play bluegrass and I just went out as much as I could by going out and learning the musical language of bluegrass and fell in love with it. I started out with rock and moved to folk, did a lot of jam band stuff, studied jazz, but about 10 years ago bluegrass really hit my heart the hardest and I just have been loving every second of it.
ETHAN: Tell us what the music scene is like for a bluegrass musician, is there touring or festivals?
JASON: Yeah, that’s kind of the most fun thing for us as a band, is to travel around and go to the festivals. Generally at the festivals you are hitting your target audience there. We play festivals all across the Western United States and even Canada. We actually just got back from Borneo, Malaysia, where we played the International World Festival that was an incredible experience. We were actually the only bluegrass band there. But again our target audience is really the bluegrass festivals and we do a lot of concerts in the park type stuff as well. As a working band you’ll play wherever to a point, so we play at private parties and weddings, but we don’t really do bar gigs because the bluegrass audience, more often than not, tends to be the audience that doesn’t want to stay out late and hang out at a bar, at least that we found, because we aren’t a big jam band hippie type of a thing so we really don’t play bars so much. We play concerts in the parks, more sit-down shows, places that have a reputation for bringing in bands like us, Americana and bluegrass kind of music. We have a little bit different flare than a lot of bands do, so we bring that flavor around and hope people like it, putting on a entertaining good show for ’em.
ETHAN: Since you got to represent bluegrass at the World Music Festival in Borneo, Malaysia, you guys must be impressing the right people!
JASON: Yeah, we have a booking agent who books a lot of stuff for us. I don’t really know the details of how that all started, but he called us last year and said “Hey, do you guys want to go to Borneo,” and we said “Of course!” I would say it was the best musical experience, that we have all had individually and as a band. To be over there for little over a week. There were 22 bands from all over the world, and every band was incredible, and every band was really excited to see every other band. It was like instant friendship. Even though we don’t speak the same dialect as the other bands, it was something new and fresh and humbling. We were very honored to be a part of it. It was an incredible experience.
ETHAN: How long have the Blue Canyon Boys been playing together?
JASON: So, Gary and myself, the mandolin player and other singer, have been playing together for probably eight years or so. We started out as a trio with a different bass player, then about five years ago we switched bass players and added Jeff our banjo player, so this configuration of the group has been going on for about five years.
ETHAN: What are you hearing from the fans out there?
JASON: Our shows are pretty high energy shows. We move around a bunch. A lot of energy and power comes from the four of us. Not trying to brag or anything, but what we hear from a lot of people, is that we have a lot of punch for four guys playing acoustic instruments on stage. That’s what we really strive for, from the minute we start to when we’re done, just pushin’ pushin’ pushin’. Our society is a very visual society, we hear, but almost what we see affects us more than what we’re hearing, and you have to think a lot about that aspect of your show as well. That’s something that a lot of bluegrass bands forget to think about.
ETHAN: What kind of show should we expect Sunday?
JASON: It will be a mixture of half original and half... bluegrass is very similar to jazz in that there is this huge underlying bed of material, and it’s just standards. It’s songs that we can pretty much play with any bluegrass player, and have a great pick with them because there is this language that is there, even if we don’t know the particular tune, we can pick it up pretty fast because there is this set form that we can follow. So bluegrass has this big wealthy bed of standards, so we will do some standards, and do a couple unique things that bluegrass bands haven’t done in the past, and we’ll do about half originals as well. That’s one of the things we try and be careful about, do some songs that your audience is going to recognize, because if you go and play a bunch of songs that no one’s heard of before, you’re going to kind of loose your audience a bit. You always want to keep bringing them back in with something that they recognize, it kind of keeps them on the edge of their seats and keeps them from getting bored from listening to too much stuff that they haven’t heard before at a live show. It can become tedious as a listener. We try to tailor our sets to the audience that we are playing for. If we are playing for a bluegrass crowd that is older we aren’t going to delve too much outside of that. But if we are playing a club or a wedding we try and play some rock songs to make it fun for the people who might not be bluegrass fans. We haven’t made our set list for yet, probably for Labadie we’ll play a lot of our originals and some straight bluegrass songs, and we’ll throw a couple of old rock songs in there as well. It will be fun, I’m really looking forward to coming up and playin’ there.
ETHAN: We’re really looking forward to it as well. How long will the show run?
JASON: We’ll play two sets, generally two 45-minute sets, take a 10-minute break, sell some CDs and mingle. Take a short break, rest our fingers, then get back up and play another full on set. It will be fun to see all the family and friends that will be coming out.
ETHAN: Thanks for talking with us, Jason. Is there anything you want to say in closing to our readers?
JASON: Just really looking forward to coming out, it will be a fun, fun time!
Jason was born and raised in Labadie, Mo., and attended Washington High School, graduating in 1993. Following high school Jason attended Webster University where he received his degree in music with an emphasis on guitar. The Blue Canyon Boys are made up of Gary Dark on mandolin, Jason Hicks on guitar, Jeff Scroggins on banjo, and Drew Garrett on bass.
The concert starts at 5 p.m. rain or shine Sunday, Aug. 14.
Advance tickets are available at both the Labadie Station and Market. Tickets will also be sold the day of the show.
Labadie Station is located at 128 Front St. Labadie.
For more information visit www.bluecanyonboys.com or call (636) 459-9143